Disabled People’s Association

Complement fines with education

Straits Times Forum, 20 January 2016 (print edition)

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) welcomes the stronger penalties for drivers caught misusing handicap parking spaces (“Fines up for disabled parking misuse“; Monday).

This is a timely effort, considering the recent spate of events involving the misuse of these parking spaces (“Cab leaves no room for wheelchair user“; Jan 5). But imposing higher fines may not be enough to deter offenders and would-be offenders.

More public education needs to be carried out to explain why access to handicap parking spaces is strictly restricted to people with disabilities.

In busy areas such as shopping malls, where parking spaces are limited, some drivers may think it is acceptable to park in a handicap parking space, and they will continue to believe that, unless some effort is made to explain the need for such restrictions.

The fines should continue to be complemented with public education to help address the need to change behaviour over time.

In particular, the DPA urges private carparks, such as those in shopping centres, to educate the public and their own staff about the proper use of facilities for disabled people and the need to properly implement any penalties the management has for the misuse of those spaces.

The parking space for people with disabilities at Cluny Court is repeatedly used by people without the appropriate parking label. The carpark staff even tell drivers to park there when there are no other parking spaces available.

Such cases are not isolated to this shopping centre, but it does illustrate how poor commitment to implementing the proper use of the handicap parking spaces undercuts the point of having those spaces in the first place.

Stronger penalties help spread public awareness that such conduct is not just socially unacceptable, but is also against the law.

Yet, without proper implementation, people will continue to believe that the misuse of parking spaces for people with disabilities is something that they can easily get away with.

These reserved parking spaces are not about giving special privileges to a group of people. People with disabilities have no other choice but to park in these designated spaces, as the wider spaces are needed for them to get in and out of their cars.

This parking issue has a wider significance in Singapore’s journey towards an inclusive society.

I urge members of the public to report the misuse of these spaces to the management of carparks and follow up with them in properly penalising the misuse.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Executive Director
Disabled People’s Association


Note: DPA does not think that the term “handicap parking spaces” is appropriate terminology. (Please refer to DPA’s glossary for more information: http://www.dpa.org.sg/…/10/DPA-Disability-Glossary-FINAL.pdf) The Forum editor edited DPA’s letter and changed the terms “parking lot for persons with disabilities” and “disabled parking spaces” to “handicap parking spaces”.

S.E.A. Aquarium: Accessibility For Persons with Disabilities

By Jorain Ng

On 23 January 2015, my organisation – the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) – paid a visit to S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.

As with all other events, this outing was organised for our members, including our institutional members. But this outing was especially significant because it marked DPA’s first collaboration with the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). ANZ had kindly sponsored the tickets and also volunteered manpower on the day. The turnout was overwhelming, with a total of 135 participants from ANZ, Down Syndrome Association, Singapore Association for the Deaf and DPA.

Apart from giving our members an opportunity to have fun and socialise, the purpose of this visit was also to review the accessibility of the attraction. Touted to be the world’s largest aquarium, with streams of tourists from around the world, we felt it necessary that the attraction is accessible for all. And so, at the end of our visit, we conducted an informal feedback session on our members’ experiences.

This blog post records our findings and recommendations for improvements.

Overall Experience

Glass tube at the aquarium

Walking through the glass tube. Photo credit: Raymond Lee.

Everyone had a great time exploring the marine world. The sights were simply spectacular and other-worldly!

Walking through the glass tube, we were enchanted by the many fishes, of different colours, sizes and species, swimming around us. Moving deeper into the aquarium, we also saw bottenose dolphins, hammerhead sharks, mantra rays and many other animals. And let’s not forget about the luminous jellyfish glowing aquariums! Many of us were captivated by the different species of jellyfish pursing through the water. We were also mesmerised by the Open Ocean Tank or Ocean Dome. The large tank houses glittering schools of fishes, sharks, manta rays and many others, giving viewers a glimpse into marine life.

There is no doubt that everyone at DPA, and I believe other members from ANZ, DSA and SADeaf as well, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

But the aquarium could be made more enjoyable for persons with disabilities. The following sections detail our feedback and suggestions to improve the accessibility of S.E.A. Aquarium.

Getting to S.E.A. Aquarium

DPA members did not face any difficulty getting to the aquarium. Some used specialised transport like a wheelchair-accessible taxi or bus, while others travelled on the MRT and bus to get to the attraction.

But finding the main entrance was not easy because the Entrance signboard is small and hard to spot, especially for persons with low vision.

DPA suggests adding footprint markers on the ground to lead visitors to the aquarium. It would also be helpful to have an Information / Visitors Support Desk where visitors can ask for directions to the aquarium, the lifts and wheelchair accessible toilets. Alternatively, the management could deploy trained staff at different locations inside and outside at the entrance of the aquarium to direct visitors.

Inside the Aquarium

The aquarium was a little too dark for comfort. Persons with low vision may face difficulty getting around the aquarium. Deep sea creatures may be sensitive to light, so a possible solution to this safely hazard is to add sidelights in poorly lit areas and have luminous graphical or text signs on the ground to guide visitors. This would not only aid persons with low vision, but other persons without disabilities as well.

There is also the issue of sudden steep slopes along the pathways. Manual wheelchair users might find it hard to climb the steep slopes. DPA suggests replacing the steep slopes with gentler ones. Again, this change would benefit not just wheelchair users, but also the elderly, children, and visitors with baby strollers.

Due to the throngs of visitors flocking to the front of every aquarium and exhibit, wheelchair users were not able to see much or had to wait for the visitors to leave.

To stem such inconsiderate behaviour, the management of the aquarium could deploy staff members at strategic locations to ensure that visitors give way to wheelchair users. This way, everyone gets a chance to see the sea creatures, not someone else’s back or head.

Wheelchair users also faced difficulty reading the information plaques of the various sea creatures. The plaques were either positioned too low or too high (i.e. above or below their eye level). The management could consider repositioning the various signages / information at a comfortable eye-level for wheelchair users.

As a visual spectacular that relies heavily on sight, it is hard to imagine how persons with visual impairment can enjoy the aquarium. Nothing is designed in a way that can help them enjoy the marine world. There are no tactile ground surface indicators to help them navigate around the aquarium independently, nor are there any braille text describing the different sea creatures.

Life-size replica at River Safari.

Life-size replica of snapping turtle at River Safari.

To help improve the experience of persons with visual impairment, the management could add the aforementioned features to their aquarium. The management could also follow the footsteps of River Safari. River Safari helps persons with visual impairment visualise the animals by providing life-size replicas for them to touch and feel. Alternatively, the aquarium could develop an app (using GPS technology) to be used as a map/guide to give audio information about the exhibits/sea creatures.

Others (lifts, toilets & emergency protocol)

It was not easy to find the lifts as there were no lift signs. This caused great inconvenience to wheelchair users and their caregivers. The management could add lift signs around the aquarium or provide maps indicating the locations of lifts and toilets. Once again, this would benefit everyone – the elderly, children and adults – not just wheelchair users.

The aquarium has wheelchair accessible toilets. But like any other toilets in Singapore, there are a few inconsiderate persons without disabilities using them – a sure sign that Singapore needs more public education campaigns.

Finally, the aquarium lacks information on how persons with disabilities can escape the aquarium in the event of an emergency. Understandably, such emergency information are rarely provided at tourist attractions, but it is good practice to start doing so. The information can be posted at their website or at other notable areas of the attraction.


Despite these accessibility issues, all members happily chimed that they would recommend the visit to other persons with disabilities. DPA would love to visit the aquarium again, and extends our sincere gratitude to ANZ, SADeaf, DSA and S.E.A. Aquarium management.

So far, DPA has visited the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Jurong Bird Park and now S.E.A. Aquarium. Are there other places you think DPA should visit and provide a review on its accessibility? Let me know in the comments below!

Integrated system can be win-win for all students

Straits Times Forum, 26 January 2015 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) thanks Mrs Padmini Kesavapany for her comments on mainstreaming children with special needs (“Kids with special needs: Modified curriculum not the answer”; last Thursday).

We recognise that there are not enough allied educators, but the current lack of resources does not mean that an integrated national education system cannot work.

As mentioned in our previous letters (“Help kids with special needs fit into mainstream”; Jan 17, and “Special education schools should be part of national system”; Forum Online, Oct 18, 2014), introducing modified curricula will not add more burden to the mainstream teachers’ workload. These modified curricula could be taught at specialised classes by specialised teachers within mainstream schools.

It must also be noted that the DPA is not saying that it is the duty of mainstream teachers to develop a modified curriculum. This is best left to the Ministry of Education and Special Education teachers who have the expertise and knowledge.

At present, two international schools – Dover Court International and Integrated International – are trying out this curriculum strategy for integration and they seem to be working well.

Through their supportive education programmes, students with special needs are integrated as much as possible into the mainstream schools where they learn and play together with their mainstream peers.

And both schools have specialised classes that cater to those with special needs.

The DPA is not advocating an education system that is “one size fits all”. The DPA works with a diverse group of people with different disabilities, and recognises that no one type of learning would suit them all.

The DPA is confident that an integrated education system can work and will benefit all students with and without special needs.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)

Executive Director

Disabled People’s Association

ST Supper Club with Nicholas Aw

From the Straits Times, 16 November 2013
By Goh Chin Lian

Part 1: ‘Let the disabled pay half price’
Commuters with disabilities are to get fare concessions on the bus and MRT, the Government said this week. But Mr Nicholas Aw, president of the Disabled People’s Association, wants them to pay half price. In Part 1 of this interview with Singapolitics, Mr Aw, whose advocacy group celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Singapore on Saturday, calls for taxi vouchers and a national registry to keep track of persons with disabilities.

Q: What’s your take on the concessions?
It’s very welcomed. We’ve been asking for this for a very long time. But we are curious as to who qualifies.

The definition of disability is very wide. Anyone can have a disability at any time. Does it apply to people with a temporary disability or who’s injured? Or only people registered with the Government or voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs)? Are those with mental issues considered to have a disability?

I’ve Tourette’s Syndrome. The group that I used to be with, the Tourette care group, says it’s a condition. But the Very Special Arts group in Singapore defines it as a disability. Whichever the case, the concession should include all persons with disabilities.

Is there a means test? Is it for the rich as well? It should be applied across the board, otherwise you have to go through a lot of paperwork which may be a challenge for persons with disabilities.

There are those who are well off, but the vast majority are disadvantaged because they lack access to education, information, accommodation and employment. For example, people with Down’s Syndrome can’t do some of the jobs abled people can do because of their condition.

There must be some safeguards so that the concession won’t be open to abuse. Carpark labels for persons with disabilities are often abused. There’s a blue label for persons with disabilities who drive, and an orange label for caregivers. There’s a time limit for caregivers, but people tend to abuse it.

How do you prevent this? Apart from abuse by abled people, there’s abuse also by the persons with disabilities or their caregivers. Let’s say you’ve a pass for the concessions. What if you lend it to someone else?

Even if these concessions are given, can a person with disability get on board the bus or train to enjoy the benefits? Many are wheelchair users. The route from their home to the MRT or bus stop can be a challenge because when they come to a kerb, there is no ramp.

Almost every MRT has one lift. The person on the wheelchair has to fight with abled people, the elderly and people with strollers for that one lift. A member told me he waited for an hour for the lift. Every time the door opens, they just rush in. Clearly they could have used the escalator.

I was with my son in a stroller at Gardens by the Bay. The lift is for people with strollers, the elderly or PWD. Two young couples just rushed in.

Staff manning the doors don’t know what to do if there’s a person with disability. When it’s crowded, do they tell the crowds to stand aside to let him through?

Are there standard operating procedures? Our members complain they can’t get on the train at peak hours due to people rushing in.

Q: How big a deal is public transport cost for this group?
In Scotland, public transport is free for those above 60 and people with disabilities. Malaysia gives up to 50 per cent off on trains. Australia gives taxi vouchers. The minister says the concession will offset any fare increase. How much less do they pay? It has to be at least 50 per cent – enough to draw the person with disability out of the house.

Many find it a hassle to take buses. They complain that the bus captains drive by and don’t stop, as they’d have to get down to engage the ramp. It might be a challenge for them to travel from their home to the bus stop, so they call for a cab. The cab fares may be half or three quarters of their monthly pay. So, make it easier for them to take taxis by giving them vouchers.

There are persons with disabilities, with mobility issues, who can drive. But the car has to be modified to suit their disability. The Government can subsidise their car by waiving the COE.

Q: Why do you think that tax payers should foot the bill?

You want to be an inclusive society. One day you’ll be old as well and you may have a disability. Someone will pay for your concessions. It’s karma: You give and you get back in return.

A lot of people with disabilities would rather stay at home because they can’t get out or if they get out, it’s very troublesome and they have to pay for bus, MRT or taxi. When they stay at home, you don’t see them. You don’t see that many people in a wheelchair on the MRT. But if you go for an event where it involves a VWO or a charity, there are a lot of wheelchair users.

I went for an event at a temple recently. The people in wheelchairs came by buses. I was astounded by the number of people in wheelchairs there.

Q: Why do you think the Government is now for concessions for people with disabilities, when it did not previously?
Apart from ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Government probably recognises that it has to include everyone in their radar and ensure no one is marginalised because of its aim for an inclusive society.

They recognise we are an ageing population with many persons with disabilities becoming more visible in the population. For various reasons, we see a gradual shift towards more welfare-oriented policies.

Q: Why is a national registry of persons with disabilities needed?
A lot of people with disabilities are single or elderly with no one to care for.

You don’t want anyone to fall through the gaps. It may not capture everyone, but at least it’s a start to account for people with disabilities, and it’s a growing number because we are ageing. A lot of them suffer from age-related issues. They start using wheelchairs. They may not be disabled, but they stop walking.

Not all persons with disabilities will want to be registered with VWOs. Some may not be aware. The Government was giving out Goods and Services Tax (GST) credits, and they kept asking people to sign up at the ATMs. People didn’t do it because they were not aware of it. They do not have access to TV or newspapers.

Without accurate numbers and statistics, how does the Government plan policies related to disability? Even the Enabling Masterplan admits its figures for the total numbers in the disability community is an estimate, because no complete statistics are available, it’s all over the place.

Q: What do you think of the plan for all buses to be wheelchair-accessible by 2020?
It’s too long. I’m impatient for change. Maybe there are issues to be resolved that we are not aware of, but things should happen sooner than later because some of these people may not see the benefits after it is rolled out. A lot of them are very old as well.

Part 2: ‘We need laws to protect rights of the disabled’
Disabled commuters are to get fare concessions on public transport, the Government said this week. In Part 2 of this interview, Mr Nicholas Aw, president of the Disabled People’s Association, tells Singapolitics about Lamborghini drivers hogging parking spaces reserved for those with disabilities, and changing mindsets through a recent video campaign.

Q: What are the other transport issues?
Enforcement’s needed. There’s indiscriminate abuse of parking spaces set aside for persons with disabilities. People don’t care. The fine is too small. To someone who drives a Lamborghini, at Marina Bay Sands, it’s small change.

I’ve encountered people who just laugh about it. I call security. They’re afraid to enforce because no law requires them to do so. They’re afraid they will lose their customers.

Playground@Big Splash is crowded every Saturday. Three parking spaces are reserved for persons with disabilities. The security guard allowed abled people to park there. He said: “It’s very crowded.”

I said: “What if there’s a person with a disability? How is he supposed to park?” He said to me: “This is private property. If you’re not happy, call the police.” He’s got a point.

Even if I call the police, it’s private property, there’s nothing I can do. You’ve all the rules, but if you don’t have enforcement, they’re toothless.

Toilets reserved for persons with disabilities are often abused. People see a queue for the ladies, which is often very long. They go there and have a quick one. It happened at a concert organised by the Very Special Arts group. The Prime Minister was the guest-of-honour.

During the reception, I saw a person in a wheelchair waiting outside the toilet for persons with disabilities. I asked: “Who are you waiting for?” “It’s locked”. Then a person came out and he’s abled. Good grief. We’re at an event for persons with disabilities and you abuse the toilet meant for them!

We think no one is going to use it, so we can use it. If you use it, you open the door, you see somebody waiting for you in a wheelchair, where are you going to hide your face?

There are rules about guide dogs for the visually impaired going into food establishments. They’re often not allowed. In shopping centres, they’re accompanied by staff or security because they’re worried that the dogs will affect other customers. This is clearly discrimination.

We need to put bite into all these rules. I’ve recently written to the Prime Minister to consider legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

At the very least, it will protect them from abuse and enforce the measures that protect them. A person with a guide dog should not be subject to discrimination. Abled people who park at spaces reserved set aside for persons with disabilities in private carparks will be subject to the law.

Q: Is legislation the way to change mindsets and attitudes?
At the rate we’re going, yes, because people are apathetic. I believe in the goodness of people, but I don’t know how it applies. It will be so nice to see people offer their seats on the MRT without saying: “This is a reserved seat, you have to give it up.”

If you’re sitting on the non-reserved seat and you give it up, you make that person’s day and you make your day too because you feel proud of yourself. The rest will think: “Why didn’t I do that?” That’s what we try to promote through our campaign. The tagline is: Remember, their biggest disability is our apathy.

We target the younger ones. This year, my staff proposed to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to include a disability module in its Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) subject, following an announcement that there’ll be an animal welfare module in the revamped CCE.

They initiated discussions with MOE, the National Council of Social Service and other disability VWOs. There’s nothing concrete yet, but the parties are open to the idea. 

It’s all about the mindset that persons with disabilities shouldn’t be pitied; people shouldn’t be apathetic to their needs. Because of our selfishness, our inconsiderate behaviour, they’re affected.

Q: What led to your campaign?
I thought public education was very needed in Singapore. We targeted transportation because the most common feedback was that people don’t give up their seats, lifts are always crowded, parking spaces for persons with disabilities are abused. We wrote to the creative companies. No one wanted to pitch for it.

I was fortunate to know someone from creative agency Goodfellas who did it for us pro bono. We attended the same school, St Joseph’s Institution, and we play soccer together. I emailed him. He said: “Sure, let’s have a look.” We only paid for advertising cost in the cinemas, social media, TV and newspapers. The lovely Eunice Olsen composed an original score for the video. (see video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8i6T1B_dtDQ)

Q: Do you see a big shift in Singapore to being more inclusive?
The concession is a huge move. It’s a sign that the Government is moving forward in improving the lives of people with disabilities and being inclusive.

The Prime Minister shared our campaign video on his Facebook page. He said: “Let’s do our part!” We’re not asking people to do a lot. Just giving way. Be a bit considerate. Then all these things about concessions will fall into place.

Q: Why do we need to change our labels for disabilities?
Terminology is important because some people are very sensitive to labels. The word “wheelchair-bound” (instead of wheelchair user) means people are bound to the wheelchair, but they can get out and they don’t live in a wheelchair. It may seem trivial to some people but to those in wheelchairs, it may mean a lot.

We’ve a dictionary on terminology. “Spastic” is changed to “cerebal palsy” after 50 years. The word “disabled” is wrong. We’re part of the Disabled People’s International, so I can’t just tell them to change the name overnight. If we follow the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it’s “persons with disabilities”. “Handicap” is a misnomer.

When I was young, people laughed at me because of my condition. Name-calling is very painful for the young especially. We’ve got to use proper terminology to protect everyone so they won’t be embarrassed of their condition or disability. The principle is not to label people or use derogatory terms that make people feel small about themselves.

Q: What’s it like to grow up with Tourette’s Syndrome?
I had it when I was 12. I used to be stared at. People would laugh at or imitate me. People thought I was possessed. I came to terms with it. It was a challenge to study. Sometimes it hinders my ability to read. I take longer to do it. I don’t really care what people think about me anymore. Being a lawyer helps. You grow a skin that’s very thick.

But I worry for those who have the condition, are ostracised and can’t get proper jobs. Someone with Tourette’s told me he had a hard time at national service. He was bullied by his peers and laughed at. No one understands his condition, which was very bad. He was using expletives and shouting. I told him to seek medical help because there is medication that helps.

I’m off medication because I’ve been taking it for years. My wife saw through my condition, so I’m very blessed for that.

I’ve a lot of good friends who tell me they don’t see my condition, they just see me as who I am. I’m very thankful for that and I feel very lucky. I hope for the same thing for people with any condition.

Q: What’s the biggest barrier you face for your condition?
I’ve passed that age when I was afraid. When I was younger, I’d think: “What did I do wrong with my life?” “Why was I like that?” “What can I do to help change?”

I can’t see much of a barrier except perhaps when it comes to speech or reading. I have difficulties when I’m stressed. I can’t focus because there’ll be spasms or tics.

Sometimes it can be embarrassing even though I don’t really care. People do stare. I can hear them make comments. Recently I went to a party. I was introduced to a couple and the lady asked me: “Can I ask you a personal question? You have Tourette’s right?” And we carried on. It’s the kind of thing I appreciate rather than to hear whispers: “Why is he so strange? Is there something wrong with him?” For those who want to know, just ask.

When you stare at someone with a disability, talk behind his back or point, he’ll feel embarrassed, awkward and sorry for himself because he’ll think: “Why am I like that?”

The effect of what people do can be very powerful on someone who’s got a condition or a disability. People have to be sensitive to those with special needs.

DPA Interview with Paralymic Medal Winner Ms Laurentia Tan


Laurentia (7th from left) drops by DPA! (photo by DPA)

Miss Laurentia Tan recently competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England, representing Singapore in the equestrian events and winning Singapore’s first medal in those games. She rode off with a bronze medal in the dressage Individual Championship Test (class Ia) and a silver medal in the Individual Freestyle Test (class Ia).

However, these are not Laurentia’s first Paralympic medals. At the 2008 Paralympic Games, she was awarded bronze medals in the Individual Championship and Individual Freestyle Tests (class Ia). Those were Singapore’s first Paralympic medals as well as Asia’s first equestrian medals at the Paralympic Games. To acknowledge her contributions to sport in Singapore, Laurentia was awarded the Public Service Medal from then-President S R Nathan on 20th September 2008.

Although Laurentia is based in England, Disabled People’s Association was lucky enough to be able to catch up with her and her mother, Mrs Jannie Tan, when Laurentia was in Singapore to receive the Public Service Star from President Tony Tan in November 2012.

How do you think that your success at the 2012 Paralympic Games has raised the profile of athletes with disabilities in Singapore?

I hope the games and the fact I won these medals has raised the profile of athletes with disabilities in Singapore and abroad. Yet, I could only have done so with the help of my team, coach, horse, doctor, physiotherapist, parents and team mates. It shows what can be achieved given the right support.

What does winning the Paralympic medals in Dressage (Individual championship test and Individual Freestyle test) mean to you personally?

It means a lot to me as it is a representation of all the hard work I have done. It shows I have improved over the years, which is especially significant given that the level of competition has also risen.

What kind of time commitment and training is required to compete at your level? How many hours a week do you train?

When I am preparing for an upcoming competition, I go to Germany to train. Once over there, I train every day, three times a day. I try up to eight horses in a day to see which is best suited to my needs and that we are a good pairing. In between competitions, I travel fifty kilometres, about an hour’s drive, to get to my training ground four times a week. There I will train for one and a half hours and then groom the horse and clean out the stable. The whole process can take up to five or six hours.

How do you manage to keep a balance between training and your other commitments?

When I was working full-time, it was hard to keep a balance between my work and training schedule. In the end, it was too tiring to do both. That is why I quit working in order to focus on training.

What would you say has been your biggest obstacle in competing at your international level and how did you overcome it?

There are two obstacles that I face in competing in my events.

The first obstacle is keeping in time to the music because I cannot hear it and slow or speed up the sequence accordingly. The only way to try to get the timing as close as possible is to practice the musical sequence over a hundred times a day in the lead-up to the competition. My coach will let me know if I am behind or in front of the music at the end of the sequence, and I just have to memorise how fast the horse and I should go through the sequence.

The second difficulty I have encountered is in finding the right horse to partner with. Each horse has his or her own character and personality, much like partnering with a human, but without the ability to communicate properly with each other. The horse has to understand the rider’s movements because she cannot coordinate her movements as well as some riders who do not have disabilities and who use whips or stirrups. On top of all this, the horse has to have the ‘wow factor’ in terms of its look and walk.

With so many horses to try, how do you know which one is the best for you?

The horse that I rode in the 2012 Paralympic Games was called Reuben James and by the time of the games I had only been riding him for ten months. Yet, I fell in love with him within five minutes of riding him. He seemed to know my movements and we just clicked. Another horse I tried out immediately did not take to me and kept shaking so in that case I know it was not the right horse for me.

Rueben is based in Germany, so I go back on weekends to train with him and other able-bodied people exercise him during the week, but no other Paralympic athletes ride him. A teammate of mine tried riding him, but Reuben did not like it because he did not have as much strength in his legs as I do.

Do you get any support with maintaining your horse?

Banyan Tree sponsors the upkeep of my horse, but I need to look for more sponsorship as it is expensive to take care of him. There are vet checks to consider and horse shoes need to be changed every six weeks. Reuben also needs rugs to put over him to keep him warm in winter and lighter ones for summer, and there is also his feed and shavings in his stable that need to be changed every few days. All in all, there are many costs that come with keeping a horse that I need sponsorship to cover.

What do you think is the biggest issue that athletes with disabilities face and what advice do you have for overcoming that obstacle?

In terms of my event, I think that people with disabilities get nervous about getting on a horse. Horses can sense that nervousness and shows a new horse you are not confident. In my case, I have been riding since I was five to strengthen my core muscles and improve my posture so I have never been afraid of it. My advice is to overcoming that fear is to pretend and act like it is a horse you know already.

Do you think that the education you received set you up for your later success at the Paralympic Games?

When I was at school, the Mary Hare Grammar School, there were accommodations made for my disability as it was a school for people with hearing impairment. These include special coloured lights in my room that lit up to signal different things – green for the doorbell, red for a fire alarm and blue for the phone ringing. All my friends were deaf, the television showed programmes with subtitles and the librarian would record shows with subtitles as well. Once I left school and went to university (Laurentia studied at Oxford Brookes University and has a degree in hospitality management and tourism), I found it difficult to adjust at first.

At university I had to keep reminding the lecturer to turn around when speaking so I could lip-read, but did not want to do this too much as it was disruptive to the class. On the other hand, there was a lot of accommodation made for me. I received a grant from the government that covered a note taker to overcome the issue of having to lip-read the lecturer and I also asked to be given the lecture notes beforehand. I was also provided with a special chair, a laptop and a book allowance so that I did not need to go to the library to get my course books. Going to the library is not that convenient and the books are only available on short loan. In terms of exams, I was given a bit longer to complete them.

Later when I went to work, accommodation was made me in the workplace. An interpreter was provided. I was given a more supportive chair and a laptop and a parking space right outside the office.

What changes have you seen in Singapore and in the attitude towards disability over the years? What have you especially noticed and liked?

When I first came back to Singapore, people would look at me on the MRT because they were not used to seeing someone with a disability. Back then, I wished that people who had questions would come up and ask me, rather than just looking. I think that people were not educated as to how to help persons with disabilities.

Over the years, I have seen an improvement in the support provided for persons with disabilities such as lifts in HDB and other buildings, more ramps and parking spaces allocated for those with disabilities. I have heard about the work schemes for persons with disabilities and I have also seen a slight improvement in terms of those with hearing impairments in that there are more subtitles on television.

A lot has been done to catch with other more accessible and inclusive countries, but these efforts are not always consistent. There needs to be more information for persons with disabilities regarding kinds of services and facilities are available to them.

What advice do you have for aspiring Singapore athletes and other people with disabilities in Singapore?

When you enjoy something, follow your passion and never give up because you never know where it could take you.


Laurentia Tan personifies what can be achieved with the right kind of support and with reasonable accommodation for a person’s disabilities. DPA hopes that Laurentia’s success will not only motivate other persons with disabilities to pursue competitive sports, but also create awareness in Singapore about the need to nurture that talent, both in terms of sponsorship and within the curriculum of our institutions of education.

The inclusive and accessible nature of her formative years and education no doubt contributed to Laurentia’s success. DPA hopes that her story can replicated in the next generation of persons with disabilities in Singapore.

For more photos from Laurentia’s visit to DPA, please go to our Facebook page.