You might assume that having grown up in a family with two brothers on the autism spectrum, Debra Lam would be predisposed to championing causes involving people with disabilities (PWDs).
For the 26-year-old, that wasn’t the case.
In fact, throughout much of her adolescence, Lam admits she wasn’t too fond of her elder and younger brothers.
Describing herself as a “very, very privileged student” who was often nominated by her teachers for extra-curricular educational opportunities, Lam couldn’t understand why her elder and younger brothers weren’t doing as well as her in school.
“It never occurred to me that my brothers were actually having challenges due to their disability. But the perception I got was, ‘Oh, my brothers were just lazy.’ And that’s why they were just not performing, and as a result, they didn’t get any opportunities.”
More than that, Lam was also embarrassed by her brothers’ disabilities.
Having seen and heard stories of how they were ostracised and bullied at school, Lam was worried that by association, the same stigma would spread to her:
“In primary school, I didn’t dare to tell people I actually had brothers who were special, because I saw how my brothers were bullied. Both of them went to mainstream schools, and were bullied quite badly. And I kind of got the impression that if people knew I had brothers who are special, they are going to treat me differently as well.
“Why do you think that of your brother?”
Enter Lam’s boyfriend, Ryan Ng.
The 28-year-old first met Lam when they were in secondary school.
He was the only other person she knew who had a sibling with a disability.
Ng’s younger brother has William’s Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterised by distinctive facial features and intellectual disability.
While it took Lam a long time to come to terms with her brothers’ disabilities, Ng’s perception of PWDs was very different.
“I was just blabbering about how annoying my brothers were and all of that. And then [Ng] came back and was just like ‘Why do you think that of your brother? I love my brother, I think he’s amazing.’”
Indeed, if Lam’s childhood experience with her siblings was marked with a struggle to accept their disabilities, Ng’s could be characterised by blissful ignorance:
“Ryan has always lived in this perfect bubble where he thought everyone was super accepting, super embracing.”
On a mission to forge an inclusive future
Today the couple are the co-founders of Society Staples.
It is a social enterprise that seeks to foster greater social inclusion for PWDs in Singapore.
Its establishment speaks of the journey and growth that the pair have been through together.
For Lam, it involved coming to terms with and embracing her brothers for who they are.
For Ng, it meant recognising that society is not as inclusive or welcoming to PWDs as he had always thought.
It’s no surprise then, that these two narratives seem to be the driving force behind the company’s mission to “create an inclusive future where every PWD can maximise his/ her potential and be embraced as an integral member of their society”.
For full article, please visit: https://mothership.sg/2019/05/society-staples/