Story

Overcoming The Odds

We spent an afternoon with Alister, an extraordinary individual, and here's the story of how he inspired us!

Meet Alister

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The first thing you might notice about Alister is not his wheelchair but his distinctive laughter and bubbly personality. However Alister shares with us that he wasn’t always happy as he is now.

When he was younger, though the kids in school did not openly bully him; it was not their action but rather their inaction that was hurtful - leaving him out of activities. It also didn’t help that he was unable to push himself around in his wheelchair due to the limited strength in his arms and legs caused by Cerebral Palsy. Being put in these situations had a negative impact on his self-esteem, causing him to be withdrawn in his younger days.

Being in a wheelchair does not stop him

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Things started to change when Alister got an upgrade to a motorised wheelchair in secondary school. On top of that, his family started giving him more opportunities to be independent such as going to school on his own. His new found independence helped him grow in confidence, which led to him making more friends and expanding his social life.

Not as intuitive as we think

Going out alone is not as easy as we might think - finding out which buses are wheelchair accessible, where the exits are located within the MRT stations and checking out the street view using Google Maps helps Alister to get around on his own.

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After spending some time with Alister, our eyes were opened to the many things able-bodied people take for granted. For example, when we stopped to get bubble tea on the way to the interview venue, we realised that their menu was stuck to the countertop which was out of view for Alister. Other things includes carrying food trays in the food court or pushing open glass doors.

Don't be shy

“Don’t be shy to ask us if we need help because sometimes we do!” says Alister. Point taken for all of us: It’s better to ask than to assume that PwDs always need help because they are disabled or never need help because they lead independent lives.

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Photo credit: Ourcatalyst Facebook

With each challenge conquered, Alister’s confidence has grown and he now leads a more independent lifestyle which includes having a job at Singtel. Working in its Group Sustainability department, he helps the company foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace by building awareness and understanding of the issues faced by PwDs. Using his own personal experience as a guide, he collaborates with Singtel's consumer team to improve accessibility for customers with differing needs.

Alister’s role extends beyond the office. He works with Singtel’s partners such as SG Enable and the Singapore Business Network on Disability (SBNoD) to advocate and support employability for PwDs. He also makes multiple overseas trip a year to share his story and to encourage others to maximise their potential. His largest audience was a speaking engagement to a crowd of more than 7,000 people.

This disability will not stop me from making my life count by being a blessing to others. When we overcome challenges, its a story to tell, to share and to encourage. And this story of overcoming all odds is not only one for people with disabilities but for everyone!

Alister Ong Wheelchair user & Inclusiveness champion

Never Say Die

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I don’t blame them! Most of the time, they are just unaware. They don't know or didn’t think about making it (infrastructure) disability friendly.

Alister Ong Wheelchair user & Inclusiveness champion

Alister’s never-give-up attitude has kept him going this far. He acknowledges that generating awareness about disabilities is the start to greater empathy and finally - understanding things from the perspective of a person with disability.

Let’s not be a society that sees the condition but the person behind it.

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