Poly launches wheelchair challenge to raise empathy for the disabled

Poly launches wheelchair challenge to raise empathy for the disabled
Geoffrey Cho, a student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, taking part in the Wheelchair Challenge during the launch of "Inclusivity & Me" campaign,on 27 June 2017. Photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY
Published: 4:00 AM, June 28, 2017
Updated: 8:19 PM, June 28, 2017

SINGAPORE —Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) principal Clarence Ti Boon Wee got a glimpse of the difficulties often faced by a wheelchair user when he used the mobility aid to try and navigate the school’s canteen.

“I almost bumped into a student while moving around the canteen in the wheelchair,” said Mr Ti, who added that the polytechnic is considering having automated doors for its canteen.

He was among participants of the Wheelchair Challenge which is part of a month-long “Inclusivity & Me” campaign launched at the NP campus in Clementi Road yesterday.

The event was attended by about 250 people, including polytechnic staff and students as well as members of community service clubs, such as the SPD, an organisation that helps those with physical disabilities.

It aimed to educate staff and students on how to interact with disabled people, ranging from those with visual and hearing impairment to others with intellectual disabilities.

“The campaign’s hope is that (individuals) will realise what they can do and then do it,” said its chair Cheryl Lee, 36, who is also with the polytechnic’s Office of Service Learning.

Stressing the individual’s role in interacting with disabled people and removing barriers, she said this year’s campaign is going for “depth”.

Hence, unlike previous years’ one-day campaigns, this year’s edition will last for one month, during which organisers hope to inculcate a strong sense of empathy among participants.

“If each (individual) is impacted enough to do something, I think that’s really powerful,” Ms Lee added.

The campaign aims to reach 4,000 people, including about a third of NP’s student population of about 14,000.

The Wheelchair Challenge is organised by the polytechnic’s Rotaract Club and aims to get students and staff to experience the day-to-day obstacles that wheelchair users face.

Participants follow a route around the school canteen in a wheelchair with a cup of water balanced on a tray on their lap. Rotaract Club president Lee Celine, 18, said: “We know that students won’t want to just look and read information; they want to try it (the wheelchair) and from there they can empathise.”

The second-year Business and Accountancy student added: “It is really about understanding the daily challenges wheelchair users face.”

Geoffrey Cho Jian Ming, a first-year Information Technology (IT) student, said using the wheelchair was harder than he had expected because of the strain it put on his arms.

“I realise that the people who are (wheelchair-bound) must actually be quite strong,” the 17-year-old said.

“Every single day, they will have to … transfer all their energy to their arms and push their wheelchair to travel the same amount of distance others have to, but without using the strength of their legs.”

Mr Cho, who overturned the cup of water barely 20 metres away from the start, cited “balancing” as another problem, with the material of his shirt and the length of his legs making it difficult to keep the cup level on the tray.

He said: “I really empathise with the physically disabled more now, and I’ll offer my help when I see them.”