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Bridging people with disabilities to the community

dragon boat singapore DBS marina regatta

SportsSocial causesHealth & Body

Paddling well gets you medals, but paddling for good is for a greater cause.

Imagine a society so inclusive of people with disabilities (PWDs) that they barely seem different from you and I.

That is what Society Staples hopes to achieve.

Started by Ngee Ann polytechnic graduates Debra Lam, 23, and Ryan Ng, 25, Society Staples is a social enterprise that organises team building workshops and initiatives. Their mission? To bridge the gap between the community and the PWDs in Singapore.

"We [Society Staples] envision a future where every single PWD can maximise his or her potential and be embraced as an integral part of society," said Debra, co-founder and marketing executive of the social enterprise.

Growing up with two disabled brothers, Debra was exposed to the blunt and shallow perception of PWDs in society from young. While she was given opportunities like overseas trips and leadership roles in secondary school, her brothers were excluded from such privileges.

dragon boat singapore DBS marina regatta
DEBRA AND RYAN AT THE RECENT DBS MARINA REGATTA 2016.
PHOTO CREDIT: RYAN'S FACEBOOK

"I remember my mother driving me to Changi Airport to send me to Melbourne for a programme and my older brother asked her why I got to travel while he didn't. It struck me then that they should've been given the opportunity to, but I didn't think much of it since I was still young and immature," said Debra, recalling that incident in 2008.

That all changed when she met Ryan, who also has a brother with a disability, through dragon boating in secondary two. Unlike Debra's experience, Ryan grew up thinking his younger brother was like any ordinary child and only found out when he was 17, that his brother was different.

"My parents never told me much about his disability and I just thought he was a slow learner. To me, he's like everyone else," said Ryan, who is in charge of sales in Society Staples.

Ryan's brother has Williams syndrome, which is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes one to have an intellectual disability or learning problems, unique personality characteristics, distinctive facial features, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) problems.

dragon boat singapore DBS marina regatta
DEBRA AND RYAN WITH RYAN'S BROTHER, JARREN (IN STRIPPED GREEN)
AND HIS FRIEND, WEI KEONG (IN LONG SLEEVES), AT THE SUPER RUGBY EARLIER THIS YEAR. 
PHOTO CREDIT: RYAN'S FACEBOOK

After reading a Stomp article in 2011 on special school teachers making derogatory remarks about their students, Ryan and Debra were determined to put an end to the mockery.

In 2012, the duo set up a dragon boat team, Deaf Dragons, made up of four deaf paddlers and soon grew to 26 strong PWDs.

"Being a physically and mentally demanding sport, we wanted to make a statement that even with disabilities, they are just as strong as we are," said Debra.

dragon boat singapore DBS marina regatta
DEAF DRAGONS AT THE DBS REGATTA 2013.
PHOTO CREDIT: SOCIETY STAPLES

After making a name for the team in the dragon boating community and seeing how interested people were to connect with PWDs, the pair expanded their reach by starting Society Staples, in 2013.

Since then, they have connected 300 PWDs with the community through fitness activities like Strongman Bootcamps, corporate teambuilding workshops, and their most popular initiative, Paddle for Good.

At their recent Paddle for Good event, which started as a collaboration with DBS Marina Regatta in 2015, participants had to paddle on a dragon boat ergometer with a simulated visual or audio impairment to raise money for the PWDs.

By placing the participants in the shoes of a blind or deaf paddler, the event hopes to help people understand the struggles faced by PWDs in and out of the boat.

Together with DBS, Society Staples managed to raise $60,000 for Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) over the last two weekends.

dragon boat singapore DBS marina regatta
MANY, INCLUDING EXPERIENCED PADDLERS LIKE MYSELF (IN BLUE), FOUND PADDLING
WITH EITHER DISABILITY (DEAF OR BLIND) A CHALLENGE.
PHOTO CREDIT: DBS MARINA REGATTA'S INSTAGRAM

With the good reception from the recent Paddle for Good event, the young and promising enterprise aims to bring people together on a bigger scale.

The duo is planning a a games festival in August, which will feature sports such as billiards and bowling. The catch? Only larger than life equipment will be used in the games.

The upcoming festival hopes to connect the public with the PWDs through fun-filled activities.

"In everything that we do, we want to promote equality and push the boundaries to bring people together. We hope, one day, society will see PWDs like how Ryan sees his brother - as equals," said Debra.

TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: SOCIETY STAPLES FACEBOOK