“Next stop… Bishan.”
As the train’s announcement rang, commuters started standing up, getting ready to alight. Charlene, on the other hand, felt a lump in her throat. For her and many other people with disabilities, alighting at the right stop isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
But it was not always like that. As a successful video director at a local production company, Charlene’s career was thrown off-course when she accidentally fell from a height in February 2020 – resulting in a burst fracture that shattered her L3 vertebrae.
Despite undergoing two operations to regain some form of mobility, Charlene could not move around with the freedom she once had. Even commuting and going out on her own left her anxious and lacking in confidence.
This was especially so during peak hours as trying to move around in a crowd sometimes drew impatient stares. Even though she knew things were beyond her control, Charlene often could not help but feel embarrassed at the inconvenience she was causing to others around her.
Determined to get better, Charlene enrolled in the Transition to Employment (TTE), a programme by SPD, a local disability-focused charity. The care team in TTE, consisting of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and employment support specialists, all worked in collaboration with Charlene to help her return to work and leisure activities.
The holistic support in TTE meant Charlene did not just get help in strengthening her muscles which weakened because of her injury, she was also provided counselling and a community she could fall back on for emotional support – thus improving her mental and emotional health.
By openly sharing her personal experiences during her support group sessions, Charlene saw for the first time she was not alone. “I’m grateful for the support as I would otherwise have been walking into the dark alone and unprepared.” Similar to Charlene, many in her support group avoid taking the train during peak periods to avoid crowds. Some also face inconveniences when they find toilets for persons with disabilities misused and dirty. Daily things most people take for granted, like stepping out of their home, requires detailed planning. “There’s just so many things to take note of; like how accessible the place is and whether it’s friendly for our use.”
But knowing she was not alone has helped her to be more positive in her outlook on life, and through the sharings, she has learnt to appreciate the daily small blessings. “What’s more important is the need for self-love and self-respect. Without these, there’s no purpose in anything else, really.”
Today, Charlene has since recovered from her injuries and is back at work. She continues to volunteer at the TTE peer support group and is working on a book to raise awareness towards mental and physical health.
Charlene’s hope is to be able to help as many as she can, especially those who struggled as she did. “With the awareness and willingness to look at yourself, I transformed my life for the better and with confidence.”
As someone who has benefitted greatly from SPD’s comprehensive support programmes, Charlene hopes to bring greater awareness to the impactful work done by the team. She aspires to rally more individuals to partner SPD by coming forward to donate and support people with disabilities, as they overcome daily challenges to thrive and contribute to society.