GROWING up, 22-year-old J Haridharan had to face weird looks from strangers whenever he went out.
Getting around was also an uphill task for this Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) student.
This is because Mr Haridharan, who was born with cerebral palsy, walks with crutches.
Mr Haridharan, better known to friends and family as Hari, now spends his time helping other disabled people.
He is president of the Teach Me Toastmasters club, an organisation which helps its members - mostly disabled youths - improve their communication skills.
He joined the club in 2007.
He also helps out regularly in the Meet-the-People Sessions in the Taman Jurong constituency and at the Riding for the Disabled Association of Singapore.
For his efforts, Mr Hari was presented the Youth Inspiration Award at this year's Shine Youth Festival.
He said: 'Many disabled people tend to keep to themselves. They avoid travelling unnecessarily and avoid interacting with the outside world.
'I encourage them to go out, and to be just like any other youth. I tell them about my experiences, and hopefully it will help them.'
Active in school
Volunteering aside, Mr Hari is an active member of NP's Indian Cultural Society and does wheelchair dancing in his spare time.
But he was not always this cheerful and upbeat about life. Recalled Mr Hari: 'When I was in Sec 3, there was a period when I was very discouraged.
'I had gone for an operation and had to miss more than two months of school. I had a really hard time trying to catch up with everybody else.'
It didn't help that he was in one of the best classes at Yuhua Secondary School.
He said: 'I had done very well the year before, and it was hard to accept that I was failing some subjects.'
Mr Hari's mother, Madam K Rajamani, 51, also recalled that her son used to question why he had to 'be like that'.
She said: 'He would ask me that question whenever we went out and when people looked at him because he is different.'
To encourage her son, Madam Rajamani said she would constantly tell him not to focus on his disability.
She said: 'I told him that he has a good brain.'
Mr Hari's lecturer at NP, Mrs Chandra Gopalan, described Mr Hari as 'remarkable'.
She said she had watched her student grow from a shy first-year student to a confident, capable final-year student.
She said: 'He is someone who doesn't ask for help easily. Now, he's in a reverse position, where others ask him for help instead.'
This article was first published in The New Paper.