Microsoft Youthspark Scholarship Ignites Passion for Learning in Students with Disabilities

Singapore, 6 September 2013 – Four young Singaporeans facing vastly different challenges every day proved that learning, sensory or physical disabilities are no barriers to excellence as they were awarded the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship for their extraordinary achievements this morning. For the first time, the scholarship was also awarded to a student with dyslexia.

The four deserving students received the scholarships to pursue higher education in the field of Information Communication Technologies at a ceremony held alongside the Towards An Inclusive Workforce 2013 forum at NTUC Business Centre. The Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship has been designed to nurture and develop candidates who demonstrate excellent academic credentials, strong leadership potential, and a passion for creativity, higher learning and innovation. The scholarship will fund course fees and purchase of textbooks for IT diploma or degree courses offered by local polytechnics or universities.

The scholarships are part of a Microsoft global initiative, called Microsoft YouthSpark. Launched in 2012, the companywide initiative aims to create opportunities for 300 million youths around the world and bridge the emerging opportunity divide between youth who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful, and those who do not. Through partnerships with governments, non-profits and businesses, programmes under Microsoft YouthSpark will empower youth to imagine and realise their full potential by connecting them with greater education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities.

“Making a real impact to the local communities has always been a key priority for every Microsoft business leader in each country. To realise Singapore’s vision of an inclusive society for all, it is important for us to continue investing in talents from all walks of life, including people with disabilities. At Microsoft, we firmly believe that every talent is unique and has the potential to contribute to society in one form or another,” said Ms Jessica Tan, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore. “Our partnership with the Society for the Physically Disabled, now into its seventh year, is a strong testament to our efforts in using technology and education to enable people with disabilities and level the playing field. We congratulate these four exceptional recipients of the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship who serve as roles models for everyone, showing that no matter the limitations, we should all strive to fulfil our greatest potential.”

All students at local polytechnics, this year’s scholars showed levels of strength and resilience beyond their age when overcoming adversities in their educational journeys. Mr Ang Chin Hao, a second-year engineering informatics student from Nanyang Polytechnic, was born with macular dystrophy, a rare genetic eye disorder that causes vision loss, while 20-year-old Ms Foong King Yi struggled with her studies due to dyslexia. 17-year-old Mr Eilson Tang was born with bilateral deformity in his right hand whereas 19-year-old Mr Tan Jian Hao is hearing impaired.

Jian Hao lost his hearing due to a high fever when he was four years old. He has worn hearing aids since then and is able to communicate through speech. He had to work harder to keep up in class, relying very frequently on lip reading and hand gestures as well as handwritten notes to communicate with his classmates and teachers or when he needed clarifications. The first-year Nanyang Polytechnic student is also a sports enthusiast.

Jian Hao hopes to make his mark in the IT industry after graduating with a diploma in engineering informatics, and to set up a social enterprise to provide employment for persons with disabilities as well as to promote awareness and advocate for people with hearing impairments. He said, “I am very thankful for the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship and am confident that it will present more opportunities for me to inspire others with disabilities.”

A third-year student from Republic Polytechnic, King Yi is the scholarship’s first recipient who has dyslexia. She would re-write her notes and draw maps and diagrams so that she could understand her schoolwork better through visualisation. King Yi believes in working harder to overcome her disability so that she can keep up with her peers. She said, “It is an honour to receive the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship and it has given me greater confidence to go for my dreams. My parents, good friends and teachers have inspired me to live life to the fullest and I hope I can inspire others to do the same.”

Formerly known as the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Scholarship, the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship provides up to $11,250 per academic year to each student with disabilities to pursue higher levels of learning in IT at a local university or polytechnic. To date, Microsoft has awarded 19 scholarships since 2009.

The presentation ceremony was extended to include a platform for employers and professionals from the disability sector to come together and dialogue over the critical framework and policies needed to create a fair and inclusive workplace. Jointly organised by the Infocomm Accessibility Centre (IAC) and SG Enable, Towards An Inclusive Workforce 2013 attracted 100 participants.

Speakers at the event spoke on topics relating to disability employment support. The panel of speakers included Mr Tan Chuan Hoh, Senior Assistive Technology (AT) Specialist from the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD), Mr Jaieden Shen, Head of ‘Hi-Job!’ from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS), Ms Wong Yeok Lin, Technical Manager of ‘E2C’ from the Autism Resource Centre and Mr Franklin Tan, Senior Manager of Admissions from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Well-known American advocate for persons with disabilities and Chief Executive Officer and founder of Ruh Global LLC, Ms Debra Ruh, also delivered the keynote address. Debra has travelled around the globe to speak about the accessibility of information technology and communications for persons with disabilities.

Mr Abhimanyau Pal, Executive Director of SPD, the organisation that manages the IAC, said, “SPD adopts a multi-prong approach in helping persons with disabilities become self-reliant and independent. Through the IAC, we hope to equip people with disabilities with the skills and necessary tools to help them assimilate into mainstream workforce. At the same time, we hope to create platforms like these for knowledge and experience sharing to provide support for employers as well.”