SINGAPORE - When he was five years old, Mr Michael Ngu contracted polio and became paralysed in both legs, but his disability did not stop his dream of becoming an architect.
His career began in the 1980s and for nearly a decade he worked for celebrated architect I.M. Pei in New York. Today, Mr Ngu, 62, is the president and chief executive of Architects 61, an award-winning local company.
On Wednesday (July 3), Mr Ngu was one of 13 people with disabilities recognised for their achievements in their fields, potential and contributions to society at the inaugural Goh Chok Tong (GCT) Enable Awards.
"I hope my achievement can be an inspiration to others," said Mr Ngu. "It has been challenging for a disabled person to achieve and gain acceptance in society."
Today, Mr Ngu's projects are seen not just in Singapore but also overseas - in China, India, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. At home, his firm has had a hand in designing several notable local buildings, including Changi Airport's Terminals 1 and 5 and the Helix Bridge.
Mr Ngu has also found time to give back to the community, contributing to the Singapore Cheshire Home, a charity for the disabled, as its vice-chairman for a period and to the Singapore Hand Cycling Association as its treasurer.
Wednesday's award ceremony, held at the Istana, was attended by President Halimah Yacob and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Lauding the award recipients, Madam Halimah said: "Their stories remind us that everyone is unique and differently-abled, and can contribute back to the society in their own ways. I hope today's awards will inspire everyone to go the distance with our endeavours."
There are two categories of the GCT Enable Awards, of which UBS Singapore is the principal sponsor. The UBS Achievement Award recognises the contributions of people with disabilities to their field and to society. The UBS Promise Award encourages those with great potential to keep at it, and develop their talents to a higher level.
Achievement Award recipients receive $10,000 each, while Promise Award winners are awarded $5,000 each.
Mr Ngu, who was one of three given the Achievement Award, said that he "never dreamt that this award day would arrive until now."
"I grew up with the stigma of Asian societies towards individuals like me," he said. "This award is a not only remarkable and commendable but timely to mark and recognise people with disabilities. Hopefully, it can be a catalyst towards a more gracious and inclusive society."
One of the 10 people to receive the Promise Award was chef Muhammad Haikal Johari.
After a 2015 motorbike accident in Bangkok left him paralysed from the neck down, Mr Haikal made great strides in his recovery.
"I damaged my spinal cord. The doctors initially said that I would only have about 3 per cent of my mobility left. I could not move," he said. "But today, I beat the odds. I am running a successful restaurant operation."
Today, Mr Haikal, 42, is the executive chef at European fusion restaurant Alma by Juan Amador.
Despite being a wheelchair user and restricted to a corner of the kitchen initially, chef Haikal led the restaurant in receiving its first Michelin star in 2016, which it has kept for years.
He now walks around the kitchen by balancing against walls.
"Wanting to cook well kept me going. Every day I am motivated to do better," he said. "I am thankful to those who believed in me."
Chalmers Wong, who is 14 and has severe autism, also received the Promise Award. In 2019, he emerged champion in bowling at the Singapore Sports School Para Games.
During her speech, Madam Halimah added that as part of the third Enabling Masterplan - a national road map that is guiding initiatives for the disability sector - the Government is working with social service agencies and tripartite partners to improve education, training and job placement for people with disabilities
"With better employment prospects, persons with disabilities will be better able to lead more fulfilling and enriching lives, and contribute to their families and society," she said. "Inclusive hiring is a journey, and I hope employers, family members and persons with disabilities will walk this journey with us."
The GCT Enable Awards is an initiative under the Mediacorp Enable Fund and is supported by the Singapore Totalisator Board as the founding sponsor and UBS Singapore as the principal sponsor.
ESM Goh said: "The Achievement and Promise awards are to celebrate the accomplishments of persons with disabilities, not only for the challenges they have overcome, but also for who they are and what they can contribute to Singapore if we maximise their potential."
Correction note: The article has been edited for accuracy.