I was recently appointed a Youth Fellow by MindChamps in recognition of my achievements and “champion mindset”.

The latter is something developed…

over the years through training and exposure to both the good and bad things in life.

I am grateful to many people who have touched my life – some have taught me to be strong, some have given me strength, while others have tested my resilience and made me stronger.

That is to say, while many people have supported, encouraged and inspired me, and lent me the courage to be special, I have also had my fair share of meeting people who have discriminated against, bullied or spited me because of my condition.

While I dare to take on and relish what life has to offer, I am concerned, because wherever I go, I hardly see any people with disabilities. T

he Government has put in place a programme to make access in Singapore barrier-free in five years. There has already been a great deal of improvement in accessibility for the handicapped and the elderly.

A number of housing estates have ramps, grab bars and lifts that stop on all floors. Some buses are wheelchair accessible. And it is not difficult to get around many attractions and shopping centres. But such efforts will go to waste if the disabled and the elderly choose to remain at home.

There are many reasons for them to do so, one of which is that they cannot handle the humiliation of being stared at or avoided. Worse, they cannot bear to hear the cruel remarks about them. So staying at home seems to be the safest option.

I have heard many unkind words said about me, making me feel like a criminal.

Here are some of them:

“He has been naughty. It is a punishment.”

“Don’t go near the boy. You may catch his disease.”

“See, he has done something bad. That is why he cannot walk.”

There are better ways to teach a child than to feed him the wrong idea about people who are different. Recently, at a 7-Eleven store, a child was staring and pointing at me. He asked: “Why is this baby so big?”

His father hit his hand and dragged him away. I thought his father had missed a good opportunity to teach his son to understand and accept someone who is different. Perhaps he did not know how.

I have, on many occasions, seen parents at a loss when their children ask them awkward questions about me. They look uncomfortable and seem desperate to keep their kids quiet. They feel relieved only after I smile and say that it is okay.

Parents should learn to help their children understand that everyone is unique. Besides benefiting their children, it will also save them a lot of embarrassment.

What’s more, the person with disability need not feel bitter and wounded.

It is really not difficult to get out of the situation. Once, a child asked her grandmother why I was in a wheelchair.

She smiled sweetly and said: “Oh, maybe he is not well. Why don’t you say ‘hi’ to him and ask him how he is?”

The girl did just that. We had a good conversation. She learnt about my condition and was appreciative.

Some of you may think that those handicapped who are affected by stares and cruel remarks should not be so sensitive. It is not really easy, because not all of us are that strong mentally.

To some of us, it is a case of: “Sticks and stones will break our bones. But words will break our hearts!”

Nevertheless, I urge the handicapped and the elderly to justify the Government’s effort in making Singapore barrier-free.

Don’t make your home a prison. Being disabled, deformed or frail is not something to be ashamed of.

Have a champion mindset!

(This journal entry was published on 3 November 2006 of TODAY)