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Bullied by peers, student with cerebral palsy gained confidence through horse riding, school leadership roles

SINGAPORE — Growing up with cerebral palsy, Ms Alina Seow was constantly on the receiving end of taunts and bullying from peers throughout primary and secondary school.

Bullied by peers, student with cerebral palsy gained confidence through horse riding, school leadership roles

Temasek Polytechnic students Alina Seow (left), who has cerebral palsy, and Rayner Teo, who has a condition called Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy that affects his vision.

  • Ms Alina Seow was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age
  • She experienced taunts and bullying from peers due to her condition
  • Ms Seow later found confidence through horse riding and leadership opportunities at ITE
  • She is one of the participants of a new digital accelerator programme at Temasek Poly
  • The programme is tailor-made for students with disabilities

 

SINGAPORE — Growing up with cerebral palsy, Ms Alina Seow was constantly on the receiving end of taunts and bullying from peers throughout primary and secondary school.

Because she has difficulties walking due to her condition, the 21-year-old polytechnic student uses a walking stick, and some students called her “grandma” and “aunty” as a result.

It did not help that Ms Seow went to the same schools as her able-bodied twin sister, and some would provoke her by pointing out that her sister could play sports while she could not.

“People would come up to me and say, ‘Eh you very good, ah, you can split yourself into two’... and I literally cried,” Ms Seow recalled.

Being a quiet and reserved person, she initially kept to herself. Her sister would be the one coming to her defence.

Then, a turning point came when she entered the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

There, the student was given more opportunities such as helping out with school activities and events as a student counsellor.

“Because of my condition, I cannot stand long and do a lot of physical work, but they asked me to do as best as possible… when I cannot continue, there’s usually someone from the same CCA (co-curricular activity) who will take over my position.”

Ms Seow also took up horse riding at the age of 10 as part of physical therapy, and was later asked to take part in equestrian competitions. She has won several prizes for horse riding and continues to ride with the Therapeutic and Education Riding in Singapore.

While horse riding gave her a feeling of freedom, she said that it was taking part in CCAs at ITE that taught her that she can contribute to society despite her disability.

“Since young, my parents have been telling me not to use my disability as an excuse to not do anything, and I took that to heart… but sometimes, it’s very difficult to convince people that a person with cerebral palsy (has something to offer),” she said.

With her experiences, Ms Seow hopes to use her skills to help other people with disabilities in the future.

That is part of what motivated her to take on a new 11-week digital talent accelerator programme offered by her school, Temasek Polytechnic, to graduating and alumni students with disabilities.

The programme, which provides digital career training and opportunities for students with disabilities, was jointly launched by the polytechnic and insurance company Sumitomo Life last month. Thirty students are taking part in the programme, which started on March 15 and will end on May 28.

On Wednesday (April 14), the Ministry of Social and Family Development announced a master plan that aims to help disabiled persons secure jobs more easily and live independently.

The 21 new programmes and initiatives recommended were developed by two workgroups and put forth in the Third Enabling Masterplan, a roadmap launched in 2007 with the objective of building a more inclusive society for Singapore.

TAILORED PROGRAMME 

The programme by Temasek Polytechnic and Sumitomo Life is tailored to be accessible to all participating students, and offers customised programmes for those with disabilities.

For instance, each participant is allocated a mentor, who has disabilities, so that they can get advice from someone facing similar circumstances on how to navigate disability conversations with potential employers.

Invited industry speakers also address issues of inclusivity in their talks, while also sharing insights on their industry and the available companies and roles so that students have a better understanding of the career opportunities out there.

Mr Makito Momota, assistant general manager of Sumitomo Life, said that the feedback from students so far has been positive. They find that the course has provided them with a safe environment for them to transit from student life to a working adult at a comfortable pace, she added.

Ms Seow, who studied information technology at the polytechnic, said that what makes the programme unique compared to other career guidance programmes is that the trainers bring up examples that are tailored to persons with disabilities, whereas she finds it difficult to relate to the examples used in programmes for able-bodied people.

For instance, during a workplace communication workshop, the lecturer gave tips and notes on how they can bring up their condition to their future employers in order to work out a suitable arrangement that is good for both themselves and the company.

Another participant, Mr Rayner Teo, said that he liked having the opportunity to interact with people with disabilities different from his own. This taught him how to accommodate other people with disabilities in a workplace setting.

The 20-year-old business student was diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, an inherited form of vision loss, at 10 years old.

Bullied throughout primary and secondary school for his vision problems, Mr Teo was initially resistant to using assistive technology devices when he started attending school at Temasek Polytechnic. He was also hesitant to talk about his condition with his classmates.

It was only after his special education needs officer arranged for him to meet other alumni students who have visual impairments that he became more confident in being open about his condition.

He plucked up the courage to talk about his condition with his classmates, and was surprised by how accepting and supportive they were.

“At first, I thought they would still judge and call me names because I use this equipment (a 24-inch monitor screen)... but, I think, by having more interaction and in sharing my condition, that was when I started to be more open and more confident.”

Mr Teo is now waiting to enter university, where he intends to study business management. He hopes to one day become an investment banker and later, a hedge fund manager.

Related topics

disability Temasek Polytechnic MSF assistive technology

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