Special Olympics athlete Ben Tan is hearing impaired, but you do not realise it because you are won over by his cheeky personality, ready smile, and quick humour, as he poses for pictures during Special Olympics events. His unformed speech, the only indicator of his condition, compels the listener to pay extra attention. When I ask him how he handles his condition, Ben shrugs it off with a smile and says he does not see it as a problem, and is used to it.
Ben participated in the Special Olympics in 2003 and plays many sports, including badminton, bowling and swimming. Most recently, he competed locally in marathons, biathlons, and the Ironman triathlon, winning a gold medal for the half marathon in the 2011 World Summer Games. Ben trains for these competitions with Singapore’s Special Olympics coaches as early as three months before the event. This training includes swimming, biking, running and circuit training.
Away from sports, Ben progresses well in his job. Through a contact at Special Olympics Singapore, he started working as a technician in a dental clinic, making dental crowns. As the method changed from manual to computerised, Ben showed he understands the technology employed. By 2010, the clinic sent Ben to Europe frequently to learn the latest software. Today, Ben is a Specialist Manager in the clinic’s dental laboratory, and is one of three technicians trained to construct ceramic crowns and bridges. In fact, Ben was so skilled in his role that the software manufacturer contracted him to teach other dental technicians in Singapore to use the new system. According to the clinic’s Executive Manager Eva Fernandez, “Ben really enjoys the process and takes pride in his work.”
For most of his life, because hearing aids are costly, Ben was using only one for his right ear. This situation changed when Ben took a hearing test under the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program at the 2011 World Summer Games. Ben was given two Behind the Ear (BTE) models, to help him better understand speech, especially in noisy places.
Ben’s gift is part of the Special Olympics partnership with Phonak and the Hear the World Foundation, which provides hearing aids for people with hearing loss. In Singapore, Ben and two other athletes received high-quality hearing aids and free follow-up care from The Hearing Specialist, an audiology clinic. As Principal Audiologist Mr. Tan Boon Hai explains, “a pair of properly fitted hearing aids not only helps the athletes to improve their hearing and communication ability, but most importantly improves their overall quality of life.”
Ben was reliant on hearing only on the right ear for a long time, so he is adjusting slowly to the hearing quality from the new hearing aids. But he is pleased to “pick up sounds better and clearer.” Mr Tan is confident that when Ben has clearer hearing, it will improve his word pronunciation and listeners’ understanding.
Ben’s story continues to be part of Special Olympics and Hear the World’s efforts to provide aural solutions for hearing impaired athletes. In Asia Pacific, more than 190 athletes received hearing aids and they will no doubt continue to excel in both sports and life.