Reflections from our Disability Inclusion workshop

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Eunice Tan, one of our volunteers, shares her reflections and takeaways from our Disability Inclusion workshop last weekend

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Today I went for a workshop on Disability Inclusion by Enable Development through EWB-Asia!

To be honest, I previously had no clue whatsoever on what ‘Disability Inclusion’ means or refers to. But I had the opportunity to participate and thought it might just be something cool to go and check out. My takeaways turned out to be so much more (:

We had the honor of having 3 wheelchair users conduct the workshop for us and that really brings in a lot of personal experience and puts things into perspective, especially about their feelings about certain things.

For the first part of the workshop, we discussed why ‘Disability Inclusion’ was or might be important to us. Some of us said that it was because someone close to them was disabled and they could understand; some said they were into humanitarian engineering and wanted to understand more; and of course there are basic rights, that disabled people are also part of our community and they deserve to be included in the community as well. I find that all these are really good reasons, and it really depends on one’s belief and mission in life I guess. But the speaker, Huy, brought up an extremely important point that I think is real food for thought.

‘Disability Inclusion is important, because disability is something that can happen to anyone.’ Including your friends, your parents and even yourself, regardless of how smart, healthy or rich you are.

DSCN6063Photo credit: Enable Singapore

And this really goes out to the less selfless people in life whom the ‘we should care for everyone in our society’ concept doesn’t really appeal to. Disability Inclusion should be important to you as well because one day, if you were to have any disability as well, you would definitely hope for Disability Inclusion as well.

Following that, we had various activities for us to experience certain disabilities. Such as sensory-overload, where we had shakers blasting noise in our ears, lights flashing in our eyes and feathers tickling us, all while we tried to do normal daily activities like walk around, write on a book or drink a cup of water.  We tried being blindfolded as well to experience blindness and using a white cane to navigate and move around and also sat on a wheelchair to try to move around and get in and out of the handicapped toilet. Some of us, including myself, even tried going out to lunch on the wheelchair!

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Experiencing these disabilities really helped us just understand a little on the challenges people with disabilities face and how we can help people with disabilities if we see one. For example, if someone is having a sensory-overload attack, he wouldn’t want you to go near him and touch him, pestering him about what’s wrong and how you can help. That just makes things worse for him. In fact, a simple and firm ‘How can I help’ would suffice. Through these experiences, the trainers also told us about the measures or things countries put in place to help people with disabilities and really asked us to question the fact that, ‘Now that we have slightly experienced how it feels like, do we think certain policies or measures put into place are adequate or appropriate, and if not, how can we change that.’

This was something I really liked about the whole workshop. On how it focused on not just ‘experiencing’ having these disabilities or understanding it, but really on ‘since we now know, what can we then do to help’ and majority of the time was spend on discussing solutions or action plan. Don’t get me wrong, the think the former is important as well, but I find the latter to be what’s the most important at the end of the day. After attaining all these information, what are you going to them with them?

DSCN6077Photo credit: Enable Singapore 3Photo credit: Enable Singapore

This was us, applying our understanding on ‘Disability Inclusion’ and attempting to construct a toilet with different teams having different objectives in mind: ‘Environmental Sustainability’, ‘Accessibility’, and ‘Economical’.  And it was surprising because when all 3 teams present, you actually see that there is a common view brought up – that no matter if you are trying to save cost or be sustainable, if your creation is not able to be safely used by consumers, everything goes to waste. And I found that that was my strongest takeaway from this activity. No matter what you do, always make sure it is accessible to your consumers, whether it is in terms of really just accessing the service or being safe to use. The rest of the concerns are secondary.

For me, the workshop really put into perspective the idea of ‘nothing about us, without us’, which I think is extremely crucial for humanitarian engineering.

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Take for example the handicapped toilet, which is much bigger compared to a normal cubicle – we can all probably understand that that is to give space for the wheelchair to turn and also think that this is enough. But what we don’t know is that if you actually sit in a wheelchair and try moving around in the handicapped toilet, the space is actually still extremely cramped and hard to move in. This was something that never really occurred to me and really brought up the idea of ‘Sometimes when we think we are already helping, are we really doing enough?’ It’s really important to get the feedback of the end-users.

I mean we have those electronic machines at the toilets asking you whether the toilet is clean enough or ‘please comment on our services’. Why not have that for handicapped toilets as well, just asking them ‘Is the toilet big enough’? I mean, you want to collect feedback on your services from the citizens to see if there is room for improvement right? Isn’t the handicapped toilet part of your services too? Aren’t the people on wheelchair your citizens too? Why isn’t any feedback collected from them?

At the end of the day I think this was really what summarized my learning about ‘Disability Inclusion’ from the workshop. To really be aware that there are people with disabilities in our society, people who are different from you or me, just as how we are all different in our races, religion, values, culture and beliefs.

In fact, I liked it that the workshop really brought up the idea of ‘acceptance’ rather than ‘pity’. To accept that a disability is not a shortcoming of a person or an illness, it’s just another kind of human, adding to the diversity of our society. And to accept that these people are part of our community as well. That being said, being aware of this means to consciously make efforts to allow people with disabilities to participate or contribute just as easily as those without. If you are hosting an event, try to make sure it is as accessible to people with disabilities as those without, try to make sure it is as easy to participate in for people with disabilities as those without, or even simple daily things like crossing the road, buying things, exercising, are these things that people with disabilities can do as easily as those without? And if the answer is no, we really need to start thinking on how we can change that.

DSCN6124Photo credit: Enable Singapore

All in all, I really thank the organizers, EWB-Asia and Enable Singapore for putting up this workshop and having the passion to spread such a meaningful message in the community. This was an amazing experience that really opened up new perspectives for me and taught me new things. I will definitely put what I have learnt here in good use regardless of whether it’s in my future humanitarian engineering endeavors or even simple actions in life. Would certainly attend a similar workshop again and I definitely recommend others to attend these kind of workshops in the future!

— Eunice Tan

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