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Deaf team wins dragon boat race

Published on Dec 13, 2012 6:00 AM

AFTER reading online about a teacher who mocked a special needs student for salivating, Mr Ryan Ng was infuriated.

The 21-year-old, who has a mentally-challenged brother, decided to do something to combat "condescending" attitudes.

In March, the keen dragon boater roped in three other trainers to help set up Deaf Dragons - a team of about five hearing members and 17 individuals with hearing impairment, mostly from the Singapore Association for the Deaf.

In just four months, the team went from knowing nothing about the sport to winning a prestigious global tournament.

Despite taking up the paddling sport in March with little water confidence, by July, the outfit finished first in the disabled category of the eighth Club Crew World Championships in Hong Kong.

"It was a proud moment for all of us as we have not been training for long, yet we were able to hold our own against the other formidable teams like the Breast Cancer Survivors and All Cancer Survivors," said Mr Ng, who is in national service.

Mr Ng and the other trainers are volunteers with Youth Without Borders, a non-profit organisation which supports and facilitates youth projects.

Their efforts caught the attention of telco StarHub, which forked out $26,000 in May to sponsor the team.

But despite such support, it was not all smooth sailing.

Mr Ng knew that dragon boating is a vocal sport which relies heavily on verbal commands and drum beats to drive momentum.

Without their sense of hearing, the team will be disadvantaged.

But the team took these obstacles in their stride.

They translated verbal commands to visual hand gestures and the able-bodied trainers picked up basic sign language to ease communication.

The trainers also had to dip into their pocket money to rent boats for training sessions, which can cost between $30 and $200.

"Ryan and I put in about $1,000 every month from the fees we earned from other coaching sessions," said Ms Debra Lam, 19, the team's head trainer.

Both Ms Lam, a polytechnic student who has two brothers with autism, and Mr Ng firmly believe that the disabled are just as capable as the able-bodied.

Team member Alfred Yeo, 34, an accounts assistant who was born deaf, told The Straits Times: "During gatherings, people tend to forget I am around and just talk away.

"But sports is a universal language that all of us can understand, coordinating and working together in a team."

The Deaf Dragons team intends to recruit people with other forms of disability.

Eight mentally-challenged individuals are now attending its orientation training sessions, while members are ensuring that waterways are kept clear of litter and leaves.


For more information on the group, visit


Background story


During gatherings, people tend to forget I am around and just talk away. But sports is a universal language that all of us can understand, coordinating and working together in a team.

- Team member Alfred Yeo, 34, an accounts assistant who was born deaf

Helping the disabled

  • Singapore Association for Mental Health

The charity aims to promote mental wellness, prevent mental illness, improve care and rehabilitation as well as reduce the stigma and misconceptions that surround people with mental disorders.

It was established in 1969 as the first community mental health agency in Singapore.

The charity is hoping to raise $550,000 for programmes such as Creative Hub, Club 3R and Bukit Gombak Group Homes for people recovering from mental disorders.

  • Our Better World

This website publishes real-life stories about people who are changing the world in big and small ways so that others may be inspired. Started in May, it is an initiative of the Singapore International Foundation.

One group featured on the website is Sports for the Blind, made up of visually handicapped runners and tennis players who are raising funds for a sports programme.

Our Better World has produced videos to tell their stories, spread their cause and seek partnerships.

  • Metta School

Marina Bay Sands (MBS) organised a charity cookie contest that got the public to submit original recipes fromOct 17 to Nov 26.

Cookies from the winning recipe were then baked by MBS volunteers, Metta School students and executive pastry chef Ryan Witcher to be sold at SweetSpot outlets across MBS.

All proceeds will be donated to the Metta School, which offers special education to students aged six to 21 with mild intellectual disability and mild autism spectrum disorder. The school is a designated charity of Marina Bay Sands.

  • Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled

The home aims to give residents a good quality of life in a communal living environment.

It offers caregiving, therapy, training, social work and community outreach services.

Besides its residential programme, the home also runs a day activity centre.

  • Society for the Physically Disabled

The society strives to integrate disabled people into mainstream society. Through rehabilitation, employment, training, education, assistive technology, day care and social service support, it works with them to maximise their potential and help them become self-reliant and independent.

  • Handicaps Welfare Association

It provides a wide range of programmes and services for people with disabilities. They include welfare assistance, educational classes, driving lessons, a transportation service, recreational activities and a befriender service.

It also runs a rehabilitation centre and loans out mobility and assistive aids to its members and the public.