Brows slightly creased and with steady unwavering hands, he snips away at her hair, half a centimetre at a time. His look of concentration, like that of an artist working with intent, is in direct contrast to the playful smile Jin Leng displays, obviously enjoying the haircut she is receiving. 40-year-old Soh Whee Lian is a wheelchair user who is giving back to society with his hairstyling skills.
Prior to his disability, Whee Lian was a hair technician for a brand of hair products, going to different salons who had stocked his company’s hair care products to help their customers revitalise their coarse, lifeless hair. Always keen to learn, he picked up his hairstyling skills from a friend in the same company.
In 2011, Whee Lian suffered a slipped disc and was in constant pain. He sought to alleviate the pain and was given an injection. The weeks after saw his lower limbs losing feeling and weakening. Two months later, he lost all feeling in his legs and has not been able to stand since.
A strapping young man in his prime then, he could not believe that he had to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Lost and feeling helpless, Whee Lian became depressed. His self-confidence took a nosedive and he spent almost all of his time at home, refusing to face the public for fear of the stares he would attract.
It was only in 2014 when he got to know about SPD through his friends that he considered getting assistance. SPD’s social workers helped him to secure vouchers for his daily necessities and transport, and got him involved in social activities to boost his confidence. They also had a platform ramp installed at the entrance of his home and bathroom for better accessibility.
Subsequently feeling more independent and confident, Whee Lian decided to step out by styling the hair of people with disabilities. He felt that there are not many hair salons in Singapore that are accessible or big enough for wheelchair users like himself therefore he came up with the idea of providing door-to-door hairstyling services for a small fee, as well as opening his home for wheelchair users to pop by for a haircut. This way he could also earn his own income and be financially independent.
Despite wet weather, Whee Lian was at the SPD Ability Centre on 1 August to volunteer his services for the Day Activity Centre clients, one of whom was Jin Leng.
Another SPD client, Tay Kim Ho, a wheelchair user who had also isolated himself at home after losing the use of his legs, was so inspired by Whee Lian’s efforts to step out of his comfort zone that he too took the plunge to make his way from home to SPD, by bus no less, in support of Whee Lian.
The two became fast friends after the haircut and a lunch at a nearby shopping mall.
Senior case management officer Koh Yeng Yeng is thrilled at the step both have taken to break their self-imposed social barriers and brush away thoughts of being stared at. “I applaud Whee Lian’s attitude to serve as he had to brave the rain and travel an hour to SPD to volunteer his services. Same too for Kim Ho who not only showed his support but also stepped out of his comfort zone. I am glad that through SPD’s support, they have gained improved community integration and increased independence and social participation.”
We look forward to greater successes by Whee Lian and Kim Ho in breaking new ground on their wheelchairs.
If you are interested in the haircut services provided by Whee Lian, please contact him via his e-mail.