Being 15-years old can be stressful – keeping up with school, wondering about what I want to be when I’m grown up, hanging out with friends… But being a visually impaired 15-year old is even harder.
I can’t see, but I’m trying my best to live like a normal teenager. I go to school like other kids, even though my school teaches differently from normal schools.
I have aspirations too – like every teenage girl, I have a celebrity I idolise and hope to be like when I grow up. My idol is Kelvin Tan (Chen Wei Lian), who managed to chase his dreams and become a well-known singer despite being blind. I want to be like him, I won’t let my disability hinder me.
But as much as I try to live a normal life, it is not easy, especially when every day is full of unexpected and literally unseen obstacles in my path. Going out with friends seems like such an easy thing for other people my age, but it is almost impossible for me.
Going out requires me to use my white cane constantly to make sure that I know about obstacles in front of me, and taking cautious steps to avoid them as best as I can and stumbling at times. Public transport is daunting too – I have no way of knowing if the bus I am waiting for has arrived, and whether or not I have arrived at my destination.
I heard that guide dogs are more convenient – they can help avoid obstacles and get from point A to point B easier and faster. But guide dogs in Singapore are few, and places that allow guide dogs are even rarer. Guide dogs can go on public transport, and even allowed in some shops and restaurants, but most places still do not allow their presence.
Shopping is hard too. I don’t know what options I have, and I have to work hard to make sure I am paying the correct amount and receiving the right amount of change.
More facilities – such as ATMs – are becoming blind friendly now, but they are still rare and only available in certain places.
No matter how hard I try to have a normal life that other teenagers have, it seems impossible to me. I don’t want sympathy – my visual impairment is something I was born with and something I have long accepted.
I want understanding, so that people like me can have the resources to go about our daily lives independently. Things have improved for us over the years – trains now announce each station, traffic lights have audio signals, and elevator buttons have braille – but a part of me wishes that it can be easier.
I wish that people can understand that guide dogs are specially trained not to bite and only to relieve themselves on command, so that more places will allow guide dogs and more visually handicapped people can have access to guide dogs and make it easier for us to move around.
I wish that there was an easier way to travel, without having to depend on bystanders to help us.
I wish that others understood the challenges that visually handicapped people face.
There has been more considerations for the visually impaired in Singapore in recent years, such as DBS’ implementing voice-enabled features at certain ATMs locally. However, these facilities are few and uncommon. Only 86 out of more than 1000 DBS ATM are blind friendly, and users are only able to withdraw cash and check their account balances. Similarly, other blind-friendly facilities – such as guide dogs – are not widely accepted. While the number of guide dog-friendly places in Singapore has been increasing in recent years, only slightly more than 70 establishments locally allow guide dogs on their premises, according to the Straits Times.
Nicholas Yeo is an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore majoring in communications and new media.
This social project is a collaboration between prominent bloggers and The Singapore Daily. Through this series, we hope to raise awareness for the public to come forward and support special needs children and their caregivers.