Three years ago, Maysoon Zayid gave a talk about her journey living with cerebral palsy.
A budding thespian, Maysoon reminisced about her college years where she’d frequently auditioned in plays. Despite giving a marvellous performance (“My professors would weep.”) in every tryout – she was never cast. On her final year, when the theatre decided to do a show about a girl with cerebral palsy, she became hopeful.
Thinking she’s hit the jackpot, Maysoon went in for the audition with conviction. Alas, she didn’t get the part. It was given to a non-palsy actor. When she brought it up to the heads of the department, they defended their choice and explained they didn’t think she could do the stunts the play required.
Appalled, she retorted, “Excuse me, if I can’t do the stunts, neither can the character.”
Ignorance And Apathy
Sometimes we let our ignorance get the better of us. We lose our empathy and disregard the repercussions our ignorance has brought on. We might think we mean well, but consider this: do we ever stop to think that our vacuous assumptions are aggravating the stigma surrounding the disabled?
We can do better.
Enter Society Staples
Now picture this.
Dragon boating is a back-breaking sport that depends on teamwork and hearing. What if – instead of listening to the commands you’re accustomed to – you’re taking cues through a combination of sign languages from a Person with Disability (PWD)?
There are two takeaways from this activity.
One, it allows us to experience the unthinkable reality of the disabled. Two, at some point it’s going to hit us that disability is not holding back these folks. As proven by Maysoon and brilliantly put by Society Staples co-founder Debra Lam – it’s the lack of opportunities.
Empathy Or Sympathy?
In a blog post titled, Are We Truly Empathetic or Sympathetic?, Society Staples writer Dominic Cho pens about the importance of drawing the line between empathy and sympathy, “To sympathise is easy, but to empathise is to respect. We act upon understanding, not pity.”
This is a necessary truth we need to remind ourselves.
Growing up with two autistic brothers, Debra has witnessed the harrowing hurdles PWDs deal with on a daily basis. Her co-founder, Ryan Ng, who has a brother with development disabilities, is also au courant with the dilemma.
Equality For All
Recounting an awful memory that eventually acted as a catalyst for Society Staples, Ryan went, “In late 2011, I came across a STOMP article where several special needs educators were making derogatory remarks about their students. That was wrong on all levels and I wanted to do something for them.”
Thus, began Deaf Dragons, a dragon boat team for the deaf. “It highlights their abilities and showcases them in a more positive light since dragon boat racing is perceived as a mentally and physically demanding sport.”
Deaf Dragons then led the team to kick around some ideas for a disabled-friendly gym in Singapore. But after discovering that most PWDs are unable to afford the gym membership fee (most of them were unemployed or working ad hoc jobs), they put the idea on the back-burner and turned to launching their next game-changing initiative: Society Staples.
Break The Ice
Society Staples’ team building workshops are aimed at school, corporates, and social groups.
The 52Hz is a stimulation exercise that uses the unique life experience of a Person with Intellectual Disability (PwID). In Your Shoes and When You Say Nothing At All are disability stimulation exercises that highlight what it’s like to be a PWD. These workshops aim to build understanding, encourage honesty, and increase empathy in our country.
Society Staples has since collaborated with companies like DBS Bank and the ASEAN Para Games, among others. It’s heartening that there is an increasing number of folks getting committed and going the extra mile to build an inclusive society. These workshops and community outreach events break barriers, boost morale, and educate us on the importance of practising acceptance and awareness.
Staying True to Core Business
On their core activities and maintaining their brand identity, Debra explained, “People recognised and knew us for a whole range of things. We only accept events that are in line with our vision and objectives. We direct other enquiries to suitable social enterprises or enterprises we know.”
“We realised the importance of sustainability and the need to be profitable in order for our impact to grow as well. Hence, we invested a lot of efforts to make us break even as quickly as possible. Both areas are even on the scale now.”
Coming Together And Interacting With Each Other
“Society Staples allows the society to understand more about PWDs and correct any misconceptions they may have of them,” quipped Ryan.
Furthermore, the one-year-old social enterprise is working towards to disrupt the conventional employment model. “We are also trying to deviate away from the typical employment model social enterprise. There is always a limit to how many people we can hire, but we can create more employment opportunities if we were to educate and raise awareness about PWDs.”
Ultimately, this is what Society Staples hopes to achieve in the long run: an inclusive society where PWDs are treated equally.
“There is a limit to how much positive social impact we can create in our lifetime, but if we can influence more people and provide them the skill set to create more impact, the world will be a better place.”
Disability is not inability. PWDs need to be heard. They need to be seen. They shouldn’t be denied opportunities. To paraphrase a famous television producer, Society Staples is not diversifying our society. They’re normalising it.
Let’s ginger up the world and build an inclusive society. Let’s make the world better with Society Staples.
Featured image credit: Society Staples