Celebrating the achievements of the disabled

by | July 27, 2015

SAVH’s Tan Guan Heng launches his fourth book, which highlights those with disabilities as well as supporters of the disabled.


Tan Guan Heng sharing about his fourth book at the recent launch.

There are a number of stories of courageous people, who despite their disabilities, have triumphed. There is the story of mouth artist, Johnny Ang in his 70s who overcame his disability as a quadriplegic caused by a diving accident when he was a schoolboy. He was the first Singaporean to be conferred the International Victory Award from the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, DC.

There is also Singapore’s Helen Keller (an American author who was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree), 70-year-old Theresa Chan who became deaf at the age of 12, and deaf-blind at age 14. She was educated at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston where she learned to understand and speak English and read Braille, as well as dance, ice-skate, knit and ride a horse.

All these and much more can be found in the Tan Guan Heng’s fourth book called “Pioneering Disabled and the Able”. Guan Heng, 78, has been a volunteer for the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) since 1960s and currently serves as its vice-president. Like many of the stories in his book, he too has triumphed. Losing his sight at the age of 29, he was instrumental in setting up the Low Vision Clinic and the Library for the Blind at SAVH. In 2010, he was awarded the President’s Social Service Award.

The book shines a light on the achievements of the disabled.

His book recounts how disabled Singaporeans have overcome their difficulties such as Johnny and Theresa, and many more, and found success in life despite the impossible odds. Said Guan Heng, “Disabled people should not be seen as passive recipients of charity.” In his book, there is a foreword by former President S R Nathan and a message from Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Professor Tommy Koh, who is also the patron for SAVH.

The book also salutes others such as family members, volunteers and professional workers, “whose vital support and understanding help the disabled to realise their aspirations and ambitions”, shared Guan Heng in his book. They include Ang Bee Lian, director of social welfare in the Ministry of Social and Family Development; philanthropist Lee Kong Chian; former MP Dr S Vasoo; and Ann Wee, who is called the “founding mother of social work”.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob who was the guest-of-honour at the launch of the book shared that it is timely to document these stories. She added that: “We see abilities in the stories rather than disabilities.” She also credited Guan Heng for bringing more awareness to those with disabilities.


** The book “Pioneering Disabled and the Able” costs S$20 and is available at leading bookstores. You can also e-mail Juliana Chia at julianachia1973@gmail.com.



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