First wheelchair user in Singapore Parliament: Interview with Chia Yong Yong, lawyer & nominated MP

Chia Yong Yong is a Singaporean lawyer, disability advocate and a Nominated Member of Parliament of Singapore (August 2014 to August 2015 and March 2016 to September  2018).  She is the first wheelchair user to have a seat in Singapore Parliament.

Chia is a corporate lawyer in Singapore. In 2017, she started her own law firm, Chia Yong Yong Law Corporation. In media interviews, Chia expressed her passion for her work and overcoming challenges to conclude business deals.

Chia is also a member of the Council of the Law Society’s panel of approved Mediators and Investigative Tribunal.

Digital Senior is honoured to have met Miss Chia to find out more about her undergraduate days and life after university.

(photo courtesy of Miss Chia Yong Yong)

1) Share with us the activities you partook in while studying Law in NUS. What was the greatest takeaway from your education years?

I thoroughly enjoyed Law School, the nurturing environment created by the lecturers, the supportive administration staff, the intellectual gymnastics, but above all, the friendships formed.

Law School coincided with a time of darkness– I was cynical and harsh with people of the same faith as I. So, I was pretty much a hermit insofar as participation in activities was concerned (except for faculty activities which were really fun).

Despite myself, I was not at all friendless or lonely.

My friends, then practically strangers, reached out to me, offered friendship, helped me manage the difficult terrain at the Kent Ridge campus, and stood by me as I navigated the darkness in my life.

I learnt that friendship happens when one reaches beyond oneself to another, and is built upon the foundations of acceptance and sharing.

2) Was there a role model you looked up to while growing up?

I never had a single role model.

I was blessed to have parents who love me and who made a lot of sacrifices to support the family. My parents were determined, despite naysayers, that my sister (also with the same medical condition) and I should receive tertiary education. My dad therefore became a taxi driver so that he could fetch my sister and me to and from school.My mother took on many jobs (such as confinement nanny, chambermaid, laundry worker, hawker, and others) to supplement the family income. My grandmother was our daytime caregiver, and my younger brother and sister were my joy and support.

My teachers at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School, Catholic Junior College and Law School gave me a holistic education, taught me values, work ethics, skillsets, and accommodated my disability.

When I graduated from Law School, my pupil master, the late Mr Harry Lee Wee, taught me the importance of upholding high professional standards through hard work and commitment to do one’s best for one’s clients. He also taught me to stand for what is right. Once when one of his major clients made an accusation against me, Mr Wee took my word, and stood up for me against the client. For him, the client is not always right.

3) What was the inspiration behind starting your own law firm?

I try to follow the biblical principles of living. After 30 years of legal practice, I felt that I needed to make greater social impact through my legal skills and practice.

Having acquired expertise as a corporate lawyer, I continue to serve my clients in this capacity.

In addition, I also engage in community legal outreach, particularly to the vulnerable groups.

Since most of us work hard to provide for our families and our retirement, an important part of my work now includes discussing with clients on provision for their families should they become incapacitated, or should they pass on.

In helping clients grow their businesses and look after their families, I hope my law firm can be a social impact law practice.

4) What is the best part being a parliamentarian and what is the worst?

I treasure the opportunity to contribute to debates on national issues as a Singaporean. Parliament is an important platform to reach lawmakers, policymakers and the Singaporean public on disability issues such as the challenges and aspirations of persons with disabilities and the social service sector, and issues affecting vulnerable elderly persons. As a parliamentarian, I have greater access to different stakeholders within our community in building greater understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities and special needs, the elderly, vulnerable persons, and those who are socially or economically disadvantaged.

The worst part of being a parliamentarian is having to write your speeches! It’s often a long drawn process into the wee hours of the mornings, drafting, amending, and frequently discarding what one had painfully crafted earlier. I’m often emotionally drained after each speech.

5) Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

There would be different leaders within our country, and in the sector. Challenges of inclusion of vulnerable and disadvantaged persons will remain, but will take different forms from today. What works today is not likely to work tomorrow. We will need a new generation of younger, passionate and empathetic people to walk alongside our fellow vulnerable and disadvantaged Singaporeans: young Singaporeans who are willing to roll up their sleeves, to work so that others may benefit. I look forward to serving with them, with them leading the charge.

6) What is one quote you live by?

Our life is not ours to own.

I am what I am, not by my own making. God, family, friends, teachers, the whole community made me who I am. Therefore, serving the community is but a translation of the impact and benefit that I have received.

7) What advice do you have for young undergraduates who are still looking for their purpose in life?

We often think of purpose in life as an aspiration, a dream to be chased, or a goal to be achieved. In fact, our purpose in life is to live each day fully. That consists in small steps: cultivating the right values, doing the little things right, extending a little bit of ourselves for others. A little smile, an outstretched assuring hand. A bit of filial piety, compassion, kindness. All these will build a bigger purpose in our lives. One day, we will look back and say: the little things made me who I am today.

 

More about Chia Yong Yong

Chia Yong Yong was diagnosed with peroneal muscular atrophy when she was 15. She gradually had to depend on crutches, and later wheelchairs, as her muscle tissue progressively weakened. She has not been able to stand for 20 years and her hands have grown limp.

For her work, Chia uses dictation software or dictates notes to her personal assistant.

Chia Yong Yong has been President of SPD (formerly known as The Society of the Physically Disabled) since 2008. SPD is a voluntary welfare organisation specialising in providing therapy and other professional services, employment and social service support to persons with disabilities with the ultimate goal of integrating them into mainstream society.

Concurrently, she serves on the Board of SG Enable and as a member of the Singapore Parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods and Tote Board Social Sub-Committee.She has contributed as member to several national committees and panels including 3rd Enabling Masterplan, Committee on the Future Economy, Compulsory Education Implementation Advisory Panel, Our Singapore Conversation, REACH Supervisory Panel and SG50 Editorial Advisory Committee for the SG50 commemorative book “Living the Singapore Story: Celebrating our 50 years 1965 – 2015”. She has also represented Singapore in regional and international disability conferences.

Chia Yong Yong has served since 1995 as the legal advisor and company secretary of Very Special Arts Ltd, a charity organisation launched in September 1993 to provide persons with disabilities with opportunities to access the arts for rehabilitation and social integration.

She has been a member of National Council of Social Service‘ (NCSS) Advocacy and Research Advisory Panel for one term. She also served as member of the Prisons Welfare Committee from 1986 to 1987.

Miss Chia served on the Committee of Deacons of the Zion Bible-Presbyterian Church from April 2007 to 2010 and on the Board of Deacons of the Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church from 2010 to 2013.

In recognition of her dedication and continued efforts in the public and social services sectors, Chia was awarded the President’s Social Service Award (Individual Category) in 2011, and the Public Service Medal (PingatBakti Masyarakat) in 2013 by the President of the Republic of Singapore. She also received the Public Service Star (Bintang Bakti Masyarakat) this National Day 2018.

 

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