This is our sixth article in our Focus Week on people who, despite their disabilities and special needs, have overcome obstacles and challenges they faced.
Professional photographer Kenichi Wright works with top notch firms and deals with clients like Jackie’s Chan son, Jaycee. He is also an artist, a painter, a professional surfer, a martial arts instructor in schools, and a personal gym trainer.
And he is deaf.
Born and raised in Florida, the ruggedly handsome man had a dream since he was young - just like all kids his age do. But while every other kid was showered with encouragement, praises and support, all Ken got was a cold, snide remark: “You can never achieve that because you are deaf.”
He dreamt of being a famous photographer one day. The rampant discrimination that continued throughout his life only fed his steely determination and feisty nature. Needless to say, Ken shocked those who doubted him when he graduated from university.
That tenacious and sanguine young boy back then is now living his dreams. “The deaf can do anything! They only can’t hear,” Ken said.
He used to work as an assistant football coach in America before coming to Singapore. The kids he teaches are all hearing kids. How then does he communicates with them, you may wonder. “It’s easy! Just show them placards with the number of sets, demonstrate once, done!” he exclaimed with excitement.
Wright, 38, first “met” his wife, Karen Tan, 36, on a social networking site online through a mutual friend. Soon they were chatting on the site every day and for the next three months frequently exchanged emails. Then one day, like how all fairytale stories come alive, Ken flew to Singapore to meet Karen. Karen is also deaf. Their love blossomed. Ken was shuttering between the US and Singapore for two years before they finally tied the knot. They are now happily married with a five-year hearing son who knows not only the basic two languages taught in Singapore, English and Chinese, but also sign language.
His son reminds Ken of his own younger days. His father insisted that Ken learned both speech and sign languages. Ken was schooled in Florida School for the Deaf and Blind from 2nd to 9th grade before he went to Model Secondary School for the Deaf from the 10th to 12th grades.
“The deaf can do everything in America. In Singapore, the deaf are weak,” Ken said agitatedly.
He revealed that he faced discrimination of a level he has never faced before, having been rejected multiple job applications solely on the basis that he is deaf.
Faced with anger issues when he first moved to Singapore with his wife in 2005, he fought to survive in this unforgiving culture. He claimed that Singaporeans often confuse mute with the deaf as well. “I tell people: No, I am not mute! Mute hears but can’t speak.”
Ken shared with me what he deems are the three categories of people with their various misconceptions here in Singapore:
(A) 20 to 29 years old - Thinks Deaf cannot hear
(B) 30 to 39 years old - Thinks Deaf cannot speak
(C) 40 to 60 years old - Thinks Deaf are mute
Ken rightly pointed out that on top of educating the public about the needs of the deaf in order to eradicate discrimination, services such as emergency SMS, TV closed captions and telephone relay service are necessary to help the deaf integrate into society.
For Karen, she was born in Malaysia and became a Singaporean citizen when she was 21. Her experience is slightly different. Karen dreamt of working as an air stewardess. However, she gave up her dream eventually. “They [friends and family] told me I can’t because I’m deaf. So I just dropped it,” said the petite lady.
She has been working as an accounting executive in a Japanese firm for close to 15 years now. Karen reveals that she is happy there as she is lucky to have met an employer who appreciates her hard work and who is extremely patient with her. “My boss thinks I can do it and I show her I can. She thinks very positively of me,” she says with a smile. She also says her boss is keen to learn sign language to close the language barrier.
For Ken, art has always been his medium of expression. While in Singapore, he created several art pieces that expresses his disdain of our discriminatory culture and hopes that his audience will learn to keep an open mind to the disabled.
Below are two photographs of Ken’s recent paintings republished here with his permission. They were created late this September.
Ken is now in California and will return mid next year to teach sports in Singapore.
To read more of Ken’s life and view his paintings, visit http://ichirodesign.blogspot.com/
To contact Deborah: [email protected]