“Disability or not, learn from the Tan couple how to find and sustain love with your partner”
Before we spill the beans on one of Singapore’s sweetest love stories, we’d like to introduce you to our new monthly column – (these)Friends.
We have met many awesome & interesting Friends with (these)abilities along our journey to “Disable Disabilities” and are really excited to meet even more amazing friends in the time to come. All of us see Persons with (these)abilities everyday in our daily grind but striking a conversation is something that doesn’t cross our minds often. Starting this month, we would like to shine the spotlight on (these)Friends and share their amazing and inspiring stories.
With each monthly (these)Friends feature, we aim to highlight the many interesting details behind Persons with (these)abilities – the individual. We hope that more people start a conversation and talk to Persons with (these)abilities. We look forward to you guys sharing your interactions with us! Be prepared to open your heart, your mind and start seeing things from a different perspective!
In the spirit of Valentine’s day, we’re happy to be starting (these)Friends’ monthly feature with an inspiring love story of two lovebirds and their 39 year “wheel-wind” romance.
(pictures courtesy of Irene)
Meet Esmond and Irene: Esmond is the playful chap pictured above letting his passion shine through during one of our (these)abilities L.A.B. prototyping sessions to solve the MRT Platform gap problem wheelchair users faced. He’s featured again in a lovely heart decorated by Irene for her Valentine. And you can see the lovely couple beaming with love on one of their adventures to the Botanical Gardens.
We first met Esmond during one of our (these)abilities events and got to know him as a good friend through our passion to “Disable Disabilities”. A couple of weeks, and Facebook friend requests later, we discovered someone we really wanted to meet. His wife, Irene. Ever so often, Irene would share, on Facebook, decorated pictures of the wheelchair/scooter-using couple and their adventures, and health articles to ensure her hubby was on the right path of health & wellness.
So, we decided to get to know the couple better and locked in an interview! Below is what transpired:
How did you first meet each other and how long have you been together?
Irene: I first met Esmond back when I joined the sports programme in SPD (Society for the Physically Disabled). He was my discus and javelin mentor. We both trained very hard to represent Singapore together in the 1979 Hong Kong Triangle Handicap Games. He was very patient with me as a mentor, and I found that very attractive. We would go on dates at our favourite places: Toa Payoh Park, Sentosa & Botanical Gardens!
Esmond: We first met each other in 1977, and got married on 15th November 1981, which was also the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP). So we chose the year 1981 to get married as remembrance and also a significant year to show that “Love Transcends All Barriers”!
(these)abilities: So what was the proposal set up like?
Irene: Aiyoh, back then proposals were not as lavish as they are today! So grand!
Esmond: Yah, I just asked her “Eh want to get married?”
Irene: Then I say “Okay loh”! **laughter all around**. Last time no grand proposal stuff.
But we did face a lot of initial objections to our marriage. My mom had strong objections. Especially since I was a Person with Disability back then, and wanted to marry another Person with Disability, she felt like it would be a huge obstacle to overcome. But I rebutted and argued my case that since we were both Persons with Disabilities, we knew best how to take care of each other, and were not tied down by financial woes.
(t)a: The heart wants what the heart wants right!
Irene: Yeah, exactly!
Esmond: After we got married, other wheelchair-using couples have also come to us for “love advice”. I can count at least 3 other couples.
(t)a: Cool! Could you share some of that “love advice” with our readers?
Esmond: Our advice was simple – Just change your mindset and focus on good, not bad points. We like to think we set a good example and shared our humble advice so that others can follow suit and find love.
Irene: My advice would be to trust each other and be forgiving as much as possible. It has been 15 years as a wheelchair/scooter-using couple but it still doesn’t get in the way of our love.
Any secret romantic places in Singapore you guys tend to frequent?
Esmond: No secrets, but we love Gardens by the bay, Botanical Gardens, and the Singapore Flyer! We are planning to go to the River Safari next, but we have to do some homework and ensure the place is accessible enough for us to enjoy our trip!
Irene: Places with Flora & Fauna are really romantic! I especially like Orchids & Golden showers.. Don’t quite like roses & tulips.. (**this interview was done a few days before Valentine’s Day, and was probably a hint from Irene**)
What are your favourite couple activities to do together?
Irene: Now that all the kids have grown up, I have gone back to work just to keep myself busy. It has been 5 years already! Time really flies.. And to keep myself fit, I have joined another para sport – Lawn bowl! I also managed to convince Esmond to join me! I told him “Travelling to Kallang alone very lonely you know..”
Esmond: It is also a new sport that I am keen to learn, so why not! We can spend more time together, learn another sport together and maybe even represent Singapore at another sport together! There is also a local Lawn bowl competition coming up on 6th of March. Come support us!!
(t)a: We will rally a fan group over.
What are your other “loves”? (Passion, Ambitions, Aspirations)
Irene: I was serving in the Women’s Executive Committee at the Bishan Community Centre as a secretary for 27 years. I loved organising educational tours four times a year for residents and their families to disabled homes, bizlink centre, old folk homes, SPD, and orphanages. Through these activities, my children also learnt good values because they went for the tours & attended mummy’s meetings (Our youngest son, Gabriel, has a lot of compassion for others and is a qualified nurse and serving as a medic in National Service). Also, I LOVE COOKING & KNITTING!
Esmond: I love surfing the internet for networking as I now do Internet Marketing. I always loved whatever I did! I used to work as a manager at SPD and then ran my own business customising hand-made leather photo albums. But after I was confined to a wheelchair, and considering that my children may have their own passions outside of my business, I sold my business. I don’t want to force them to continue a family business they don’t want to run.
Irene: As a couple, we both love Sports and Travelling! Especially cruises.. Will recommend cruises as an accessible mode of travelling for wheelchair users! Highly Recommend!
How do you spice things up to keep it interesting!
Irene: Through our shared interests! Having the same hobbies! Having willingness to share and love the hobbies of our partner! It is a good long-term investment!!
Esmond: You may not like your partner’s hobbies at first, but go in with an open heart and mind, and you will slowly learn to enjoy it. If you love your partner, and your partner loves something, maybe you will love it too!
Irene: We also love strolls and makan, and having regular family gatherings. Another important point - Don’t keep things from each other.
Esmond: Trust is key.
Is it hard to find romantic, yet accessible places in Singapore? Any tips for other wheelchair-using couples?
Irene: We love to go to the beach, but it is hard for wheelchairs to be on the sand. Esmond loves the sound of waves! That is why we love cruises!
Esmond: Tips, I would say, go for cruises. You can be on the deck and enjoy the view. Go to Japan as well, the most accessible country for me. Especially on the subway, the train station masters will coordinate so there will always be someone to help you. Ramps & portable lifts are everywhere, a lot of wheelchair accessible vehicles!
Irene: As a wheelchair-using couple here are some tips - Places that you want to go, make sure you google first! Then check toilets: where is the toilet, is it big enough, whether cleaners use it as store room. Plan the route and ensure accessibility of route. But either way, take a leap of faith! Even if there are obstacles, it is not impossible, just need to adapt! And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be shy!!
(The loving couple at Mariner of the Seas (Cruise) & Gardens by the Bay)
What about overseas, where’s the next destination for your couple adventures?
Irene: Hong Kong! (via flight & cruise)
Irene: I also want to go to Alaska! I love the cold weather but Esmond doesn’t like the cold! But it is a cruise! And Esmond loves cruises!
Esmond: I also intend to go to Korea, especially since they have Lawn bowl competitions there!
Irene: So we must train hard together so both can go!
As a wheelchair-using couple, what are some of the obstacles you face when going on a date, and how do you overcome them?
Irene: We cannot travel on the same bus together as each public bus can only board one wheelchair user at a time. One boards first, the other must wait for the next bus. But we always try our luck in case the bus driver is nice and not too strict!
(t)a: It is an LTA safety regulation actually.. But fret not, we created an LTA-approved wheelchair safety add-on! So two wheelchair users can take the same bus safely! We got you covered!
Esmond: Awesome! We look forward to that being implemented soon! We do face other obstacles as well: Some entrances have one step infont so we need someone to help tilt our wheelchair to get in. Dining tables also need to shift chairs to allow us to go in.
Irene: That is why we don’t go to hawker centres that bolt their stools to the ground! If we want anything from there, we get our children to dapao (takeaway)!
Esmond: Ramps leading to certain buildings are also hard to locate. Some don’t have signages and we must circle the building to find them.
Valentine’s day is around the corner. What does Valentines Day mean to YOU?
Irene: It stands for love. Take this day to reaffirm your love to your loved ones. Not just to my hubby, but to my also children, best friends, etc! Just spread the love!! EVERYDAY IS VALENTINE’S DAY!!
Esmond: It is a time for romantics, meant for partners to enjoy meals or go for movies or outings and sharing ideas and plans for the future together. Sharing the feelings!
(Love All Around: The couple's happiest memory yet- Daughter Anne Marie's Wedding! With the entire family in frame)
Any advice you would like to give to other wheelchair users looking for love?
Esmond: You need to know each other well (strengths more than weakness), understand each other, make concessions, forgive when needed, and spend a lot of time together.
Irene: You must be willing to accept each other. You must love yourself first of all, then you can be confident, then you will know how to adapt. Loving yourself can help you overcome your worries of possible difficulties you think you might face. Always say I CAN, not cannot!
Esmond: Don’t always think you will be a burden to others, but a good person who can help others grow. You may be using a wheelchair, but your mind is strong! And that is a strong attribute!
Irene: There are always many ways! Adapt, find YOUR way.
**End of Interview**
But it wasn’t the end. We had a surprise in store for Irene.
During the interview, Irene mentioned that many of their romantic escapades were surprises she planned for Esmond. When asked when was the last time Esmond planned a surprise for her, she said “I can’t remember”.
So in a separate phone call to only Esmond, I took him up on this and we said.. “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” We were going to plan a surprise for Irene together.
With our combined knowledge of good cafes, accessibility factors, and Irene’s food preferences, we locked down Canopy Garden Dining in Bishan Park II as their secret dinner date destination!
Both the route & restaurant were accessible with no kerbs all the way from Bishan MRT to Canopy Garden Dining. It is a 20 minute walk, or 8 minute powered wheelchair ride. (For the accessible route guide, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Canopy Garden Dining serves up quality Western Cuisine and whose pastry chef hails from Raffles (according to manager, Peter). It is fully accessible with no kerbs, and a well-maintained wheelchair-friendly toilet complete with sliding doors! They are BCA-compliant and pay close attention to accessibility within their premises. When I told them about Irene and Esmond’s surprise dinner date, they wanted in on the festivities as well and threw in complimentary desserts for the couple :)
Canopy Garden Dining & Bar
Bishan Park 2 1382 Ang Mo Kio Ave 1
Tel: +65 6556 1533
Mon to Fri: 9am – 10pm
Sat, Sun, Eve of PH, and PH: 8am – 11pm
To top it off, we also arranged a surprise delivery in the form of a very lush bouquet of Irene’s favourite orchids and golden showers (remember that **hint** she gave in the phone interview?) courtesy of our friends at Petite Fleur (Instagram: @petitefleur_sg; Facebook: fb.com/petitefleursg; Website: www.petitefleursg.com)
Mission Valentine’s Day Surprise– Accomplished!
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