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Gen Y Speaks: Wheelchair-bound since 17, I finally found a firm that values inclusivity because I refuse to give up

When I was 17, I experienced complications from chemotherapy during my leukaemia relapse and I was paralysed from the waist down.

Gen Y speaks writer Yap Qian Yin, 33, poses for a photo on May 12, 2023. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

Gen Y speaks writer Yap Qian Yin, 33, poses for a photo on May 12, 2023. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

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When I was 17, I experienced complications from chemotherapy during my leukaemia relapse and I was paralysed from the waist down.

Since then, this four-wheeled device I use to get around the city has become an integral part of my daily life and identity.

But as a teenager, I never allowed my condition to keep me down.

My sporting journey started when a Paralympian approached me during my hydrotherapy session at the public pool. I was convinced to try sailing, both as a way to stay active and occupied.

A few months later, I won my first trophy at a local regatta, and that spurred me to continue the sport. I used sailing as a way to show my mom that I can still live my life to the fullest and make her proud, in spite of my disability.

Subsequently, in 2014 and 2015, I won gold medals at the Asian Para Games and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Para Games. I also had the opportunity to compete at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, representing Singapore at the global sporting stage.


Despite my glories in the sporting field, which celebrated my abilities and lionised my achievements, I was unable to say the same for working life.

From personal experience, trying to seek employment as a person with disabilities (PWD) is an uphill task trying to combat hurtful stereotypes that portray PWDs as “lesser people”.

Many recruiters I have met seem to assume that being in a wheelchair automatically translates to being “less qualified”, “less competent” and “less productive”, without even getting to know me or my capabilities.

I have had numerous episodes where I believe I lost out on job opportunities as soon as my prospective employers realised I needed a wheelchair to get around.

I know this because a recruiter once called me without noticing the disclaimer about my disability on my CV. 

Despite my polite mention of my disability at the end of our conversation, the recruiter never got back to me. This happened multiple times, leading me to question whether the rejections were due to my capability or my disability.

To see if things would change, I decided to remove the disclaimer of my disability from my CV.

As fate would have it, the pandemic normalised virtual interviews, allowing me to progress further in my job applications than before.

Despite graduating with a finance degree, with more than a decade of working experience under my belt, a lot of the job offers I receive to this day are simple deskbound roles that didn’t match my qualifications.

The reality is, many hiring managers may not have much experience dealing with PWDs and therefore have misconceptions about their abilities. 

Having to deal with questions about accessible entrances, workstations and facilities is often seen as more of a challenge rather than an opportunity to create greater workforce inclusion. 

I remember vividly how many hiring managers would go cold when they found out I am in a wheelchair. They would not know how to respond, and those moments of silence often left me feeling demoralised. 

Trying to explain how my condition would not affect others was something I had to do, and I have constantly struggled with the need to do this throughout my career. 

Getting a job offer does not signal the end of this as well, as another hurdle was assimilating into the workplace culture. 

In my former company, I felt excluded and often had to lunch alone as the nearby shops were not wheelchair accessible. 

What added to my sense of alienation was that most of the company activities were also held in areas that were not wheelchair friendly. It was a difficult time, but through perseverance, I eventually found a way to fit in.

Inclusive hiring doesn’t end at the employment process. It takes a lot of effort and sensitivity to build disability etiquette within the company culture as well. 


I have only had one instance when I never faced any issues or received any doubtful looks while hunting for a job, and that’s the place where I am working now – as an analyst at Accenture.

I still remember how calm the hiring manager was even after I told her that I required wheelchair-accessible facilities.

It was refreshing not having to explain what accessibility meant, something that I had to do time and time again. 

During my interview, I didn't want to mention my disability until the end of the conversation, but I remember how excited the hiring manager was to hear about my experiences as an ex-para sailor.

As it turns out, my disability wasn't a factor in the recruitment process, and several weeks later, I was elated to receive the call that I got the job. 

This time, I felt that I was being evaluated based on my abilities, and not judged for my disabilities.


It has been more than two years since I joined the role, but it isn’t the end of my story.

Since joining Accenture, I had the incredible opportunity of spearheading PWD initiatives for other employees.

I felt the need to use my position to help strip away the stigma around PWDs in workplaces, which will nevertheless exist no matter how progressive the company’s policies are.

In 2021, I coordinated sign language classes for our Southeast Asia teams and conducted an ethics training workshop to promote inclusivity and accessibility for PWDs in the workplace. This included ideas for hiring managers to present themselves more inclusively and create accessible office facilities.

I also have had colleagues come up to me to ask about my disability journey. This has allowed for many opportunities for open dialogues and conversations about the PWD experience.

I realised that many colleagues have never interacted with someone in a wheelchair, which can lead to misunderstanding. 

Many did not realise that even though people in wheelchairs might look the same, our disabilities are anything but. Some of us are paralysed from the waist down, while others can walk but use a wheelchair due to pain or fatigue.

What I found to be most meaningful was in sharing my journey as a PWD trying to make a living and being an independent worker.

If you're a fellow PWD and you're reading my story, I want you to know that I understand how it feels to be stereotyped by others, who may feel that we're limited to certain roles and jobs.

It's easy to internalise this belief and avoid taking on new opportunities for fear of failure. 

But I want to share that the first step towards breaking down these barriers is to just give it a shot. Try things which challenge us and push us out of our comfort zones.

If I believed the social stereotypes that I was only capable of smaller roles, I would never have peered beyond the walls that others built around me.

It was because I never gave up trying that I found a company that valued inclusivity, which gave me a precious opportunity to advocate for PWDs, and to show the world that PWDs are just as capable, competent, and strong as anyone else.



Yap Qian Yin, 30, is a consultant and an ex-Paralympian who represented Singapore in world sailing competitions.

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disability Paralympian Sports

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