This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Health. All views expressed in this article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg, and the individuals who are featured.
While most Singapore graduates are concerned with climbing the corporate ladder or building their careers, Sim Kang Wei chose a different path – that of inspiring others and making the world a better place.
When he was a competitive hand cyclist, he raised funds for charities like the Children’s Cancer Foundation. In 2013, he was a National Youth Council Stars of Shine award recipient, which recognises youthful role models who chase their dreams while contributing to the community. He is also a trained counsellor at a Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWO).
Looking at his achievements, you might not realise that Kang Wei was actually born with cerebral palsy, a condition that left him needing mobility aids to walk.
We sat down with Kang Wei to understand how his growing up years contributed to his passion for service in the community.
DollarsAndSense (DNS): What led you to pursue your current career path in social work?
Sim Kang Wei (KW): Since young, I have always been keenly aware that I was different. Attending a mainstream primary and secondary school, I grew up needing to put in more effort than others, in order to achieve similar results.
I had to wake up earlier, since I needed more time to walk to school. I had to put in more effort to ensure my handwriting was legible, since my condition meant that I didn’t have as much dexterity in my fingers. It was harder for me to make and keep friends, since I could not participate in sports and other social activities as easily as others.
Years of struggling through the mainstream school system not only helped me build up a resilient spirit, but also empathy for those who, like me, might inadvertently fall through the cracks, not by any fault of their own, the people around them or the system.
I decided that I wanted to be a positive driver of change, and embarked on a career in social work, while taking part in volunteer efforts in my free time.
DNS: What are some of the difficulties you faced in the job market as someone with disabilities?
KW: As a young adult with disabilities entering the workforce after university studies, it was quite a shock experiencing how unforgiving the working world was. Weakness was poorly tolerated, especially in the commercial sector.
I notice that most are pre-occupied with the limitations of a person with disabilities, rather than what can be done to assist them to perform optimally.
The recognition of limitations might seem pragmatic for those who are afraid or lack familiarity. Unfortunately, many employers pre-judge persons with special needs, forming negative impressions about their abilities and work ethic.
We are not looking for special treatment in the workplace. We are not as “needy” as people might think. Much like pregnant mothers, for example, we do appreciate our colleagues and company for making accommodations to enable us to make our best possible contributions at work. We wish to be judged by the quality of work we produce, and not by our disability.
In fact, I think companies can benefit by hiring people with disabilities, bringing diversity of perspective and talents to a team, which can lead to a more positive work environment.
DNS: What are your greatest concerns and worries for the future?
KW: I currently live with my wonderful parents, who take really good care of me. But I do worry about life when they are no longer around. Would I still be able to take care of myself? What happens if my medical condition deteriorates or I get injured, to the point I am no longer able to work and support myself?
Like all young Singaporeans, I also worry about the increasing cost of living in Singapore, and whether I will be able to earn enough to support myself and my loved ones in the future. While I continue to be very passionate about the social services sector, working in a VWO opened my eyes to the difficulties in funding that such organisations face.
Compared to other sectors, like financial services or information technology, social services professionals are, in my opinion, underpaid. If that doesn’t change, I do worry if I will be able to earn enough in future to support my own life goals, such as buying a HDB flat, and settling down.
DNS: What actions are you taking for your future retirement needs?
KW: Thanks to my parents, I do have insurance coverage. I think I need to balance my needs today, with setting aside money for a rainy day in future. I plan to start investing in the near future.
I recently heard about CareShield Life, and I think it is very positive news for individuals like me with pre-existing disabilities. Now, we can still be admitted into the scheme, and if something does happen in future that renders us severely disabled (unable to perform 3 of the Activities of Daily Living), we would at least receive payouts for as long as we live.
This gives me some peace of mind, as I would otherwise have not qualified for entry into the previous ElderShield scheme, and would need to look for expensive private disability insurance and pay cash for it, assuming they even accepted me.
Editor’s Note: CareShield Life – An Inclusive Scheme
As Kang Wei highlighted, when CareShield Life begins enrolment in 2020, Kang Wei and others who are under the future cohort group (<30 years old in 2020) will be automatically enrolled into the scheme regardless of their pre-existing disabilities, thanks to the more inclusive underwriting process.
His current disabilities do not preclude him from joining CareShield Life and receiving payouts in future if he is assessed to be severely disabled.