It is inspiring to discover that there are many persons with disabilities who make it a mission to speak up for the cause.

For Adelia Naomi Yokoyama, who was born deaf, that means contributing to Singapore’s deaf community by being actively involved in advocacy projects that relate to disability and inclusivity.

Despite only being 20 years old, the bowler who took home Singapore’s first gold medal at the 2017 Deaflympics is a role model to many.

Amidst university and training, she spends hours in engagement sessions and workshops in schools and hospitals. She also shares her skills with her juniors as a coach and mentor, using bowling to spread awareness about her disability and inclusivity.

Adelia Naomi Yokoyama is actively involved in advocacy projects that relate to disability and inclusivity.
Adelia Naomi Yokoyama is actively involved in advocacy projects that relate to disability and inclusivity.

“It is quite stress-free because I’m doing my best to inspire people,” said Adelia in a recent interview with SG Enable.

“I love to have this feeling where I manage to give them a good feeling about themselves – nothing makes me happier than that – because giving them self-confidence will give them another chance to do what they want and do their best to achieve it.”

Adelia’s hard work has not gone unnoticed.

In July, she was one of 13 people honoured at the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards, which recognises the achievements and potential of persons with disabilities. It was an idea mooted by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2016, and officially launched by Mediacorp and SG Enable in January earlier this year.

Supporting the deaf and spreading awareness about inclusivity is her way to show that deafness is not an obstacle to success.

“Being deaf is what makes us special and different, and we have our own ways to reach our goals and dreams,” she said.

As for the change she hopes to see, the deaf athlete hopes there will be more events organised to bring the deaf and hearing communities closer together.

“This will definitely take time, but I hope it will happen some day where more people will be interested to connect with us.”

Apart from Adelia, four other awardees were highlighted for their work in the community to share their experiences and help others like them. Here’s a snapshot of how these champions are inspiring and changing lives across Singapore


Speaking up for inclusivity on social media

Social media is a very busy space, and one Singaporean hopes to make a difference by producing videos to spread awareness about persons with disabilities.

Fathima Zohra, 23, was an enterprising social media influencer before she was seriously hurt in a traffic accident in 2017. As a result of the accident, she became paraplegic.

Fatimah Zohra hopes to spread awareness on inclusivity by producing videos about persons with disabilities.
Fatimah Zohra hopes to spread awareness on inclusivity by producing videos about persons with disabilities.

One can imagine how tough it would be to bounce back from that – but that is exactly what Zohra did. Armed with a new purpose to spread inclusivity in society, the young survivor is using her personal experience to transform other people’s lives for the better. 

On social media, she has made several advocacy videos for social change organisations like Make The Change. Zohra also regularly speaks at peer support groups, hoping to motivate others like her not to give up and keep fighting.

She told Channel NewsAsia: “I hope to record stories that need to be heard, and put it out to the public so that society is more aware of the challenges people with disabilities face.”

Peer Support Work Group (PSWG) founder Raymond Tang spoke highly of Zohra’s grit and spirit.

“Participants were motivated by her sharing on never giving up despite disabilities. Moving forward, PSWG will periodically engage Zohra to continue to speak on topics like stress management, handling expectations, and self-care,” he said.

Shining a light for the blind in Singapore

Author Tan Guan Heng, 82, is no stranger to social service in Singapore.

Guan Heng’s passion for the cause began after he lost his own eyesight in his 20s. Then the owner of a publishing house, he turned to writing books that chronicled his own experience as a blind person.

Tan Guan Heng has dedicated over 47 years of his life to community service.
Tan Guan Heng has dedicated over 47 years of his life to community service.

For 47 years, he has dedicated his life to community service – first, by being the inaugural president of the Singapore Association for the Blind (now known as Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped, or SAVH) in 1977, and then by being a member for more than 30 years.

At SAVH, he created a Braille and audio library, as well as a low-vision clinic for the members. Outside of the association, he was a member of the resource panel supporting the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development (1988 – 2000). In 2010, he was conferred the President’s Social Service Award – the nation’s highest honour for volunteerism.

Most recently in 2015, he published his fourth book, Pioneering Disabled and The Able – a collection of profiles documenting the experiences of persons with and without disabilities who beat the odds.

He told The Straits Times during the launch of his book: “The many anecdotes in the book candidly reveal how the disabled triumphed over adversity, invariably through blood, sweat and tears. But that is not enough and it is through the support and understanding of the community that they are able to realise their aspirations.”

Pushing for sporting excellence

Few athletes in Singapore have been as vocal about inclusivity in sports as Yip Pin Xiu, who became Singapore’s youngest Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) in 2018.

The three-time Paralympic gold medallist, now 27, is known for her advocacy for sports to become a “united front for all Singaporeans, not separated into disability or able-bodied sports”.

Yip Pin Xiu is known for her advocacy for sports to become a “united front for all Singaporeans, not separated into disability or able-bodied sports”.
Yip Pin Xiu is known for her advocacy for sports to become a “united front for all Singaporeans, not separated into disability or able-bodied sports”.

“It is a dream that already has gathered ground globally and one that I hope Singapore can join in,” said the swimmer, who has muscular dystrophy.

Her comments were made in a speech delivered during the recent parliamentary debate on the Budget of the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth, held in March this year.

Pin Xiu’s impassioned speech follows years of speaking up against discrimination in the sporting world. She is also an active mentor to young athletes, having been named “Athlete Mentor” by the Singapore National Paralympic Council. She was also appointed the Chef de Mission for the Asian Youth Para Games held in 2017.

Much like Pin Xiu, swimmer Toh Wei Soong, 21, is also a passionate advocate for sporting excellence. A two-time gold medallist at the 2018 Asian Para Games, Wei Soong takes every opportunity to share his story with young Singaporeans – especially those who have disabilities.

Wei Soong encourages youths, especially those with disabilities, to pursue their sporting dreams.
Wei Soong encourages youths, especially those with disabilities, to pursue their sporting dreams.

He has a neurological condition called transverse myelitis which limits the use of his lower limbs, and is a “Start Your Impossible” youth ambassador with car manufacturer Toyota. As one of 12 athletes in Asia to be chosen by Toyota, Wei Soong works with the Singapore Disability Sports Council as a motivational speaker in its school outreach programmes to encourage youths, especially those with disabilities, to pursue their sporting dreams.

He told The Straits Times this year: “Pin Xiu and Theresa (Goh) are my inspiration and now I can use my position to try to explain to students my story and show that it is not impossible to taste success. My achievements don't seem as important as what I do in the schools.”