Polytechnic student tops cohort despite disability

She stays away from popular American shows such as Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory - not because she does not like the storylines or characters, but because she cannot understand foreign accents.

A fever of 41 deg C that lasted for about a week had rendered Miss Teo Zi Lin, 19, audibly impaired at the age of eight.

Left with the ability to hear less than 40 per cent of a normal hearing range, Miss Teo has had to depend on her hearing aids ever since.

Besides foreign accents, the middle child of three daughters also has difficulty hearing and pronouncing consonants such as "t" and "d".

Miss Teo said: "Sometimes, I pronounce words very weirdly.

"My friends can't understand me, so I'll have to repeat or use other words to explain to them what I'm trying to say. This happens quite frequently."

But her disability has not stopped her from enrolling in the mass communication course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP).

In fact, Miss Teo turned her greatest setback into a strength.

Whenever she was studying at home, a four-room HDB flat in Sengkang, she would remove her hearing aids to eliminate background noise and distractions.

She revealed with a chuckle: "I don't use my hearing aids when I'm studying, so I can't hear my mother when she is nagging.

"The noise from heavy traffic doesn't affect me either. So in a way, it helps me to focus more."

Miss Teo's strategy and hard work have paid off.


Not only did she top her course with a grade point average of 3.87, she was also appointed as valedictorian of NP's graduation cohort from the School of Film and Media Studies.

"The first thought that came to my mind was, 'Oh no, I have to give a speech.' I was very scared because I have trouble with my enunciation.

"But of course, I was happy and honoured as well," said Miss Teo, before breaking into a smile.

Ms Sharon Ismail, a senior lecturer at NP, was full of praise for Miss Teo.

She said she did not know Miss Teo had hearing difficulties when she was teaching her during the speech communications module.

Ms Ismail said: "She just never mentioned it. That's typical Zi Lin for you. She doesn't make excuses and will just do things to the best of her ability."

This article was first published on April 30, 2016.
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