After a swimming accident in 1983 left him paralysed from the neck down, Gilbert Tan start on a 33 year journey of music and painting. These days, the self-labeled ‘semi-retired’ artist is usually found planning his next trip with his wife.
For people with disabilities (PWDs), there are many hidden costs. While wheelchairs (especially expensive power wheelchairs) are one of the first things that come to mind, there are also the extra costs of paying for caregivers, accessible private transport (in case public transport is not possible), daily living aids and other personal medical equipment.
Having sensibly managed his finances over the last few decades, Gilbert is content today to have been able to afford an apartment and also financially support his now-deceased parents. Here he shares three ideas on how to maximise your potential and get the most out of your life.
“I always try to improve myself, do more things. But I do realise I’m getting older. In my younger days I was able to do more stuff, but now I’m taking it easy.”
Find what motivates you
Non-profit organisations for people with physical disabilities in Singapore provide a variety of employment opportunities. These training programmes range from computer-based jobs like website development to more labour-intensive tasks like sorting and packing.
“Those who have the potential to go beyond should be encouraged to educate themselves. Motivation can be a problem because they have been told they can’t do this, they can’t do that,” said Gilbert. “I’m the exact opposite. When people tell me I can’t do this, I will prove to them I can.”
“I tell them, why don’t you better your language, whether English Malay or Tamil? Just become very good at it. Being able to speak any language confidently opens a lot of worlds to you.”
Monetise what you have
The next step is to monetise what you have, whether making use of your knowledge or expertise in a certain field, or a personality strength such as persistence. “I started off with music and made quite a bit of money. [Back then] I tried to sell insurance, using a land line. Now with smartphones, a lot of avenues have opened up for the disabled.”
Even an empty room can help you earn some income, with some creative thinking. “If you stay in a 3-room flat, [you can] rent out one bedroom. This can help you get S$700 to S$800 a month.”
“Most people think one side of making more money. But there is the other side of not spending more money. It’s easier not to spend rather than trying to earn more money,” said Gilbert.
A typical approach to work – a conventional 9-5 job outside the home – may not work for everyone, especially PWDs. “A big chunk [of your salary] goes to food and transport. And [you might be] left with nothing much,” said Gilbert.
“My life now is quite simple. I’ve chosen not to smoke and drink. I don’t go clubbing. I’m not a branded stuff person. Some of my pants are 20 years old, and anyway my shoes don’t touch the floor!”
Do you have more ideas on how to get the most out of your income? Share your experience in the comments below!