At 34, Ms Angeline Peh had a promising career as the Finance and Operations Director in one of the top 10 audit firms in the world, and enjoyed a blissful family life with a loving husband and a beautiful son. However, the unexpected happened when she broke her spine one day while doing a backflip. From seemingly “having everything in the world” to losing the ability to walk, Angeline’s world changed overnight. Two years since that incident, Angeline shares more of her recovery journey and her new job with senior analyst Poh Sho Siam.
Looking good and confident, Angeline now uses a wheelchair to get around. At Coach Singapore Pte Ltd where she works, she wheels around the office with familiarity and engages in amiable exchanges with her colleagues.
Things are totally different today from two years ago. Angeline was sent to the hospital after falling on her back while doing a back flip. The doctors said that she could not walk again and her family was saddened by the incident. She felt stressed out and was at a loss as to what to do. She was torn between needing time to figure out her life and having to see to her outstanding work tasks which required handing over while she was on the hospital bed. After the accident, she needed two nurses to bathe and change her. She felt helpless and down. Life was looking gloomy then.
Things took a turn when she met Ms Shee Shu Xin, one of SPD’s volunteers, at the hospital. Shu Xin, despite being a wheelchair-user, is able to drive, work and looked stunning when she wheeled herself into Angeline’s ward. Angeline admired Shu Xin’s abilities and told herself that she just needed to learn the skills to do the same.
After three months in the hospital, Angeline enrolled in SPD’s Transition to Employment (TTE) programme as she hoped to return to the workforce. Meeting Ms Azlin Amran, SPD’s employment support specialist, also a wheelchair-user after a spinal cord injury, reinforced Angeline’s hope and reassured her that she was not alone. For instance, taking public transport in a wheelchair was very daunting at first, but Azlin gave her tips and advised her on performing daily tasks. It was one of the turning points for Angeline to have someone with similar experiences to share her challenges with.
Through the TTE programme, Angeline got a job at Coach Singapore. Her role in human resources is unrelated to her training as an accountant, but her employer gave her a chance to learn and try and Angeline appreciated this opportunity. Ms Julia Wolage, Divisional Vice President, Total Rewards, mentioned that they were looking at getting involved in community events initially, but after meeting the SPD team, they found that they could support the community in more ways than one. Coach Singapore had an opening then and they felt that Angeline had transferrable skills for this employment.
“Coach is focused on sourcing the best talent, and given Angeline’s capabilities, experience and attitude, she is an ideal fit for our organisation”, said Julia. “Now, we have a very engaged employee and our colleagues can see that this is a good thing and the company is inclusive. We need to embrace people of all abilities and this is a vision that I would have for any company”.
As Angeline needed time to adjust to her new life as a wheelchair-user and face those she knew, she decided to start afresh at Coach Singapore. She is grateful that her ex boss had been very encouraging and willing to accept her as who she was. “My ex-boss was happy that I started working again. He didn’t think that things would be different just because I am using a wheelchair and he said that I am welcome to go back when I am ready”, which was very reassuring for Angeline.
Angeline shared that her colleagues at Coach Singapore took it upon themselves to offer help. When she started work, she was rather apprehensive in the new environment, but her fears were unfounded. Her colleagues took the initiative to help her open doors, recce new lunch venues and were prompt in offering assistance when needed. “It has become an adventure where we (colleagues) explore new things and learn to handle situations together”, she said. They gave Angeline confidence and boosted her courage, “to think that I am not alone and I have got people around me.”
Her work station was shifted nearer to the entrance and amenities to reduce her having to wheel around in the carpeted office. The aisles were cleared and the heavy entrance doors were changed to an automatic one. The support from her management and co-workers has made her feel welcomed in the workplace.
Currently, she sees herself as not being overly anxious to regain her ability to walk, but to have a balanced life between work and family. To her, it makes a difference to a person’s outlook and confidence when one has a job. However, it is important to look for a suitable one that matches and fits the person’s abilities to increase the chances of it becoming a long-term and fruitful relationship between the employer and the employee. In this regard, Angeline is thankful that she has found it in Coach Singapore and to SPD for making this possible.
To others who have acquired an injury, Angeline wishes to encourage them not to give up hope and to have confidence in one’s skills and abilities to do better.
“Life is full of challenges. Don’t be afraid to overcome them”, she said, and gave a quote from Nelson Mandela which she draws motivation from, “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up”!
We wish Angeline the best in her career and hope that other employers would be encouraged to hire persons with disabilities, as many have the skills to build professional careers and contribute to a thriving business.