When 40-year-old English teacher and consultant Adrian Chan sees a begger on the streets, he doesn’t just drop a few coins into their box. Instead, he sits down and talks with them for a few moments. “Before, I was too busy to worry about such things,” he said.
Adrian was a teacher for 15 years in various independent schools in Singapore before he lost 75% of his vision overnight in mid-2009. Known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome, it is an immune reaction that causes cell death. In Adrian’s case, it was only his cornea that was affected, with the exception of the bottom half of his left eye.
When his reduced vision made it difficult to mark students’ homework, his colleagues initially took over his marking.
“I actually did very well as a teacher. People were very upset when I had to leave, but it was obvious that I couldn’t manage the demands of the job.”
Eventually, Adrian decided to leave full-time teaching. Today he does freelance tuition and works a few days a week with Voice Works, an enrichment vendor for speech and drama, and oral communication. “I can still teach. I can still conduct courses and training. And I need to make and earn a living.”
However, the abrupt change in career did not come about smoothly. “I’ll be very honest in saying that the first few years were hard,” he said. “I had to leave a job that I liked. When I left Hwa Chong, I was senior head of department. I had a high-flyer teaching career, and it was very hard to give up.” After those difficult years of adjustment, where Adrian went into depression and started living alone after a divorce, someone from his church reached out to him.
“I had friends who came to pull me out of the depression. I have a new home now, and I live on my own. My parents have also been supporting me in some ways. All my friends who were teachers before, they look out for jobs for me. Like they recommend [kids who need] tuition.”
Other adjustments he had to make revolved around using public transport and getting around on his own. “I [used to drive] and now suddenly I have to take public transport. Getting around at night is scary. Daytime is okay, but at night I need to be in a lighted area, or a busy shopping mall with a MRT station nearby. And I need to follow a familiar route home.”
His acquired disability has made Adrian “more alert to the problems that blind people face”. His new perspective motivated him to advocate for the needs of people with visual impairment.
This article is a part of our #AbleFamilies campaign in Singapore. Stay tuned for real life stories, advice and experiences from people who believe in and represent the potential of all kids. By now empowering the thousands of kids with disabilities in Singapore and supporting their parents and caregivers, we strengthen the next generation of citizens to promote a more inclusive Singapore.