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Just like every other 17-year-old, Gareth enjoys watching the EPL, and is an avid enthusiast of the Formula One Grand Prix. However, there is one thing that sets Gareth apart from other 17-year-olds, and that is that Gareth has muscular dystrophy, a condition which has his muscles slowly weakening over time. As such, Gareth uses a wheelchair to get around, but besides that, Gareth is really just another typical 17-year-old.
A student in Sengkang Secondary School, Gareth uses a motorised wheelchair to get around. The school made accommodations for Gareth’s ease of movement, such as placing all of his classes on the first floor, and ensuring that the lifts are always in proper working condition. Gareth’s friends, Daryl and Bradley are usually seen hanging out with him during recess, playing games on the iPad and keeping him in good company.
Making friends was not easy, however, as not many understood his disability. When Gareth was in primary school, there were classmates, and even adults, who when Gareth was out and about in public would ask him why he was in a wheelchair, because he did not look like he needed to be in one.
At times, he has to manage playful classmates who would attempt to hop on the back and take a joy ride on his wheelchair. This is dangerous, and might damage his wheelchair, which will limit his mobility. However, when asked if he ever felt bullied by his classmates, Gareth shared that he did not think they are bullying him, and that they are just being playful.
Having weakened muscles has not slowed this teen down a single bit. Gareth enjoys playing Power Soccer every week at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore), and has been playing for a year as a striker. He dreams of being a national Boccia player in the future, and hopes to represent Singapore as a future Paralympian.
As part of her work as a staff member of TOUCH Community Services, Charlene spends her time and endless energy organising various volunteer initiatives to raise awareness and advocate for inclusivity within the Deaf community.
Between work and family, Charlene works closely with the Deaf community, running baking classes for Deaf seniors to equip them with lifelong learning skills, works with Meals-On-Wheels in order to give back to society, and also runs tuition and enrichment programmes for deaf children. That’s quite the impressive résumé if we may say so!
When asked about the most exciting part of her job, Charlene mentions that she enjoys meeting people and provides basic counselling for married couples, and families.
However, her real passion lies in organising volunteering activities. So how did she start on this path? During her time as a polytechnic student, Charlene needed some assistance in her studies. Through her friend’s referral, she was introduced to TOUCH Silent Club for tuition lessons. It was there that she discovered her passion on reaching out to people and began taking on projects as a Chairwoman, despite also taking on a full course load at school. While anyone else in her shoes would have been daunted by the challenge, Charlene embraced it and began volunteering extensively.
Outside of organising volunteer efforts, Charlene also enjoys spending time with her family, with her favourite activity being cooking. Her favourite cuisine is Eurasian – pork stew soup in particular. Her husband who is also Deaf, supports her in her various activities. Of the three children they have, two are Deaf. From going to the park and exercising, to swim lessons, this family embraces life to the fullest.
However, not everything has been a walk in the park. There are still common misconceptions that Charlene believes needs to be corrected. She mentions how sometimes people think that by speaking slowly, people who are deaf would be able to understand them. Other examples are that all Deaf are mute, or are unable to take phone calls. Charlene tends to use this opportunity to introduce the range of Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals she knows, and the various assistive devices and “lifehacks” they use in order to get around society’s barriers.
She believes that despite how far we have come in understanding disability, there is still some way to go, and she fully encourages anyone who is keen on breaking barriers to continually engage and interact with persons with disabilities so that we can all move forward as a more inclusive society.