Cassandra: I am 33 years old, married with a daughter and earned my master from Swinburne University (ECTA) in social science majoring in counselling using cognitive behavioral technique.
I am working now as a professional counsellor with Safe Harbour – a counselling centre.
Transitioning: How did your blindness comes about?
Cassandra: Diagnosed with a genetic condition – Stargardts that causes progressive vision lost at the age of 8.
Transitioning: How has your blindness hinders your growth as a person or your profession as a counsellor?
Cassandra: I don’t believe it has. There are alternative methods that blind counselors can use to exact the same outcome as a sighted counsellor.
For example body language can be heard / felt. My blindness has made me more intuitive and creative / resourceful to look at alternatives.
Yes, I do have some limitations as a result of my impairment but I don’t allow it to hinder me and I find different ways to climb the mountains I want to.
Eventually I get to roughly the same place as people around me that embark on the same journey, it may take me more effort, but I’m ok with that.
Transitioning: Do you think that enough has being done for those who are physically handicapped here?
Cassandra: I am not in a position to comment for people with other disabilities. Speaking for the community with a sensory impairment specifically people with vision lost, we are very grateful to Singapore for putting the hardware in place in our infrastructure such as –tactile fixtures in elevators and pedestrian walkways and audible features in traffic crossings, transport and elevators.
However I feel the software of shifting mindsets would need to happen before we can be a holistically inclusive society.
Transitioning: What do you think can be improved?
Cassandra: The Singapore government has made huge efforts through initiatives such as the Enabling Master Plan 2012-2016 and other Resources made available to allow blind individuals to be more included in society. When the software ( mindsets of the people on the ground) can shift to be more inclusive, and empathy instead of sympathy can be shown, Singapore as a nation can grow into a truly inclusive society.
Transitioning: In Australia, there is this employment legislation which requires an employer to give priority to those who are handicapped and looking for a job over those who are normal, do you want this legislation implemented in Singapore?
Cassandra: Firstly, I believe you are mistaken. There is no legislation or policy in Australia discriminating normal people and offering jobs to disabled people first. There is a policy of equal opportunity. All Australians disabled or not are given equal opportunity at education and employment based on merit and qualifications.
When the disabled individual is suitably qualified for the position and minor adjustments are made to workflow or job scope, he / she can be equally as productive at the workplace.
In countries such as Australia in your example, disabled individuals are more motivated to pursue academia or professional qualifications as they are ensured that they would be offered equal opportunity based on merit. This will create a pool of disabled people that are better suited to work environment and society would in time, naturally grow more inclusive at the work place.
Transitioning: What is your biggest challenge right now as a blind person?
Cassandra: It saddens me to observe the condescending attitude some has towards a person with a disability. I hope to see one day that we can be judged by our abilities instead of being pre-judged by our impairment.
Transitioning: As a married mum, do you think that your handicap has affected your bonding with your family members?
Cassandra: No I make it a point to find alternatives for myself so I can be involved in as many activities to bring us closer. I go rollerblading, swimming and outings to different places with my family, and believe in cooking and baking for the family – there is nothing like showing a mother’s/ wife’s love through good food. Cognitive development is just as important to me as a mother, and I find alternatives to read to and teach my girl about different subjects.
Transitioning: Lastly, what is your personal goal for yourself this year?
Cassandra: Exacting attitudinal change for what it means to be blind through showcasing the abilities of persons with a disability. I place a big emphasis in continuously challenging my own boundaries at a personal and professional level. Moving on from not only individual work in counselling to also inspiring a wider audience through motivational presentations aiming to spark a desire for inner growth.
End of interview.
Editor’s note: Cassandra also won the 2012 Singapore Woman Award presented by MediaCorp,celebrating the strength, resilience and extraordinary achievements of ordinary women making a significant contribution to society, and who demonstrated bravery in overcoming personal challenges and tenacity in overcoming business difficulties.