Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation gives out scholarships to 6 people with disabilities

Mr Nirat Rajpal roped in some friends and raised nearly $7,000 to give low-income deaf students things like headphones.
Mr Nirat Rajpal roped in some friends and raised nearly $7,000 to give low-income deaf students things like headphones.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Mr Nirat Singh Rajpal dreamt of inventing headphones for others like him who suffer from hearing loss.

When he found out such headphones already existed, Mr Nirat set up an organisation in Vietnam to help students with the same condition, when he was just 16.

The Singaporean, who grew up in Vietnam, roped in some friends and raised nearly $7,000 to give low-income deaf students things like headphones, mp4 players and English audio books.

He said: "I found it annoying to take off my hearing aid and set my earphones to its loudest volume when I wanted to listen to music. So, I thought why not have a set of headphones for people with hearing loss?"

He set up Hearing Vietnam after he found out that bone conduction headphones for people with partial hearing loss had already been invented.

So far, it has helped three schools for the deaf in Ho Chi Minh City.

Mr Nirat, 21, is now an economics student at the National University of Singapore.

He is one of six recipients of the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities.

Since 2004, 52 scholarship holders have received more than $2 million from the foundation, which is funded by APB. They include Ms Yip Pin Xiu and Mr Toh Wei Soong, who competed in this year's Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Students with physical, sensory or developmental disabilities who have outstanding academic achievements and shown strong leadership in the community are eligible to apply for the scholarships.

At the scholarship ceremony last Thursday (Oct 7), Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling said the Education Ministry (MOE) has put in more effort over the years to make education more inclusive for people with special needs.

Since 2019, children with moderate to severe special educational needs - who were previously exempted from compulsory education - must attend one of the 20 government-funded special education schools.

In her speech, Ms Sun said schools in Singapore have set up or upgraded facilities, staff and services to support these children.

Students also can get funding from MOE and SG Enable, an agency that provides services to the disabled. The money can be used to get assistive technology and support services such as note-taking, she added.

Ms Sun Xueling speaks at the APB Foundation Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities award ceremony on Oct 7, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Ms Sun said: "Despite the support that is already in place, we do know that success does not come easy for many students with disabilities. But it is exactly through their successes that we learn nothing is impossible."

Mr Nirat said the scholarship helped him with educational expenses when his family's business was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another recipient of the APB Foundation scholarship is Ms Kimberly Quek, 21, who won Singapore's first bronze medal at the 2017 Deaflympics.

Now a first-year undergraduate at Yale-NUS College, Ms Quek was diagnosed with a condition known as bilateral profound hearing loss when she was an 18-month-old toddler.

The former student-athlete from the Singapore Sports School has represented Singapore and her school at two world championships, 10 international and 18 national competitions.

Ms Kimberly Quek won Singapore's first bronze medal at the 2017 Deaflympics. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Ms Quek said she hopes that her achievements will encourage people to believe that some of the hardest things are achievable with diligence and determination.

She also said she wants to raise awareness about the inconvenience that Covid-19 restrictions have for people who are deaf.

For instance, masks and social-distancing have made it difficult for her to understand what people are saying because she depends on lip-reading, she said.

Ms Quek said: "I would like to encourage people to be patient and write down what they want to say or use a clear mask when they meet a deaf person."