Kiddy ride company a safe haven for the deaf

Mr Robert Chew, who is deaf, has run a kiddy ride business for 17 years. The 61-year-old's team, which consists of mostly deaf workers, services more than 200 kiddy rides in shopping malls across Singapore.
Mr Robert Chew, who has a team of nine deaf technicians, supplies and maintains more than 200 kiddy rides in Singapore.
Mr Robert Chew, who has a team of nine deaf technicians, supplies and maintains more than 200 kiddy rides in Singapore.ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

61-year-old boss, who is also deaf, strives to keep business running to help the disabled

His company was one of the biggest operators of kiddy rides in Singapore.

But Mr Robert Chew's business, Patsfield Services, was hit by several setbacks. The Australian supplier of his company's rides was bought over four years ago by another company which wanted to capture the Singapore kiddy ride market for itself.

All 273 of his kiddy rides, which were leased, were recalled by the supplier as a result, and he lost a third of his business to the competition.

But Mr Chew, who became deaf after an accident as a baby, decided not to retire nor call it quits.

Now, the 61-year-old's company - which has a team of nine deaf technicians - has been supplying and maintaining more than 200 kiddy rides across the island, mostly in shopping malls.

To him, his company, which has been in the kiddy ride business for 17 years, is also a safe harbour for those who suffer from hearing loss or learning disabilities.

"I am deaf, so are my workers. We are a small deaf community and are happy to be in this comfort zone," said Mr Chew of his company, through a combination of sign language and writing, in an interview with The Straits Times.

Mr Chew has seen many ups and downs in his years of working for others and doing business in the past three decades, and felt the need to provide a place for people with special needs as they can be easily exploited. "I want to give the deaf the opportunity to be employed. It is harder for us to learn because of our handicap. But, together, it can be easier to overcome this weakness."

Despite the setbacks his company faced with rivals, Mr Chew wanted to keep Patsfield open for business and did not lay off any staff. "This company should stay and become a role model for all other special needs people who are determined to build a life for themselves," he said.

Pooling together funds from his family members, he raised more than $1 million to rebuild his collection of rides. Mr Chew declined donations and crowdfunding because he wanted the business to be self-sustaining.

Technician Richard Soo, 54, who started out as a painter and picked up ride-servicing skills over his 10 years at Patsfield, appreciates Mr Chew's dedication to his staff. "I respect him. He is patient when explaining what needs to be done," wrote Mr Soo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2018, with the headline 'Kiddy ride company a safe haven for the deaf'. Print Edition | Subscribe