Men and women fall in love with Charlene Wong every day of the week. The busy wife and mom, community volunteer, popular teacher and all-around tornado of energy just happens to be deaf, but that never stops her from being fully-engaged with the world at the astonishing age of just 36.
What? She looks ten years younger? We agree. Just being around her is reason enough to feel optimistic about her mission to deepen the public’s understanding of the word “disability.” Did we mention the fact that she runs, too? Take a deep breath. You’re about to be introduced to a rare treasure who calls Singapore home.
RS: Why do you volunteer?
Charlene: Making contributions to society and having a positive impact on others is something I enjoy because it fills my life with purpose.
RS: Who inspires you to work closely with the deaf community?
Charlene: My former manager. She offered me a job with the TOUCH Silent Club and as I worked with her, I couldn’t help but find her love for the deaf community to be overwhelming. She really cares about us. When I joined the TOUCH staff, I asked her what TOUCH means. Her answer? “TOUCH lives.”
RS: What changes/goals do you hope to achieve within Singapore’s deaf community?
Charlene: I hope to see members of the deaf community acquire more confidence through positive thinking. I’d like everyone to develop a “never give up” attitude to overcome the challenges they face.
RS: When you learned that of your 3 children, one was deaf, how did you cope?
Charlene: By telling myself that she is a special child and we share a special bond. My parents are deaf and they never put limits on my aspirations just because I have a hearing loss. They loved me and treated me like a normal child, so I’m just following in their footsteps, loving her for who she is and making sure I help her to become the best person she can be.
RS: Have you encountered discrimination? How did you deal with it?
Charlene: I was attempting to join a group of children who were dancing and was told by one of them that I can’t dance because I can’t hear the music. I told myself, “Charlene, you have eyes and can follow the dance steps,” so I carried on with dancing.
RS: Why do you run and what benefits do you derive from running?
Charlene: I want to keep myself healthy and it’s convenient to be able to run anytime and anywhere; it suits my packed schedule. Running teaches me to persevere until I finish and it’s a super way to use my personal time because it allows me to reflect about things while making me feel more energised.
RS: Have you participated in running events? If yes, which one(s)?
Charlene: I have participated in the Pioneer Road Run and the BIG Farm Walk & Run. I signed up because I wanted to find out for myself how it felt to compete. These events were staged near my home so I could run with my friends.
RS: Can you share with us your race experiences?
Charlene: At Pioneer Road Run, I was able to give a friend support when she was ready to give up near the finish line. It was thrilling to stand with my friends to receive medals and feel a personal sense of achievement. The BIG Farm Walk & Run was a family-friendly run through the countryside and my family joined me. It was a great bonding time as I ran and pushed my pram with my little one inside. Every minute was memorable!
RS: Can the public do more to make society inclusive for people with disabilities?
Charlene: I believe that’s possible and through this campaign, I hope to be part of changing mindsets about people with disabilities. When people give those of us with special needs a chance, we make big contributions to society through employment and social interaction.
RS: In your opinion, where should mindset changes start?
Charlene: At the school level. Schools provide students with opportunities to lead project work teams, make presentations and undertake volunteer work through community service projects. It would be great if more employers give people with disabilities opportunities to show what they can do by including them in meetings. For the deaf, an interpreter is all that’s required to bridge the communications gap.
RS: Can the public take a more proactive approach to support people with hearing disabilities?
Charlene: The public can attend deaf awareness workshops run by TOUCH Silent Club to understand us and everyone should learn sign language!
RS: Why should people with challenges live in a more inclusive society?
Charlene: Because we have a lot to contribute. Every time a person with a disability joins society, their confidence builds and they develop a sense of belonging. Research proves that integration makes people more compassionate towards people who are different. We’re pretty inspiring, too!
Want to learn more about this “See the True Me” campaign star? Look for her on posters at MRT stations, bus stops, ads and online and this YouTube video!
The ‘See the True Me’ campaign initiatives are very much in line with the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts (4ST) launched by NCSS in July 2017. The roadmap highlights the different pathways to achieve the vision of empowering every person to live with dignity in a caring and inclusive society.
“Introduce, Interact and Involve” is a series of up to 20 interactive and experiential activities that are planned and implemented by 11 different social service organisations as platforms for the public to interact with persons with disabilities.
More information about the activities and details of how to register can be found on the See The True Me website.