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“I’m leaving first but he’s staying for the carnival,” he gestures at a young man in a wheelchair.
When we look at them in worry, he assures us that it is safe to let him move about on his own at the Purple Parade 2022 at Suntec City.
With that, Wee Kit Bian, 50, who founded a ground-up movement called Disabled Can Volunteer, waves cheerfully at a volunteer, Lex Goh, 33, as he leaves the event.
Lex, who has cerebal palsy, is wheelchair bound. Yet, he is highly independent.
You may have spotted the duo in The Pride’s coverage of Purple Parade 2022. Lex is just one of the 30-plus members – seven of whom have disabilities – at Disabled Can Volunteer.
Volunteering with disabilities
Disabled Can Volunteer is an initiative under BLK.sg, a social enterprise committed to making Singapore’s heartlands accessible and inclusive, as well as promoting equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
In 2019, Kit Bian was teaching photography at Metta School, a school for people with autism, when he decided that his students needed more real-life exposure – and got his students to volunteer as photographers at the school’s National Day Observance Ceremony.
He tells The Pride: “It’s a good outdoor classroom. They get to go out and integrate with everyone else.”
Having been a volunteer for many years, he often hears from many people with disabilities that they wish to be included in employment and volunteering opportunities.
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“They always tell me, “I also want to help, but they (referring to event organisers) don’t let me help.”
That was the first time that Kit Bian realised that those with disabilities can volunteer to help others too – hence the name of the ground-up movement, which he officially launched in early 2020.
Nowadays, volunteers with Disabled Can Volunteer work with government agencies and organisations, offering technical support and photography services at events like GovTech’s Stack Conference 2022, Singapore Kindness Movement’s Kindness Day SG 2022 celebrations and at THK Senior Activity Centre @ Bedok Radiance.
Kit Bian hopes to partner with more organisations, and hopes that his volunteers could be included in future programmes.
“Any job that calls upon us, we will go.”
Cultivating a “can do” mentality
The seven volunteers with special needs at Disabled Can Volunteer are diverse in terms of their disabilities and abilities. All of them have cerebral palsy and are in wheelchairs. Skilled in tech-related services like photography and IT, these volunteers hope to inspire people with disabilities that with technology, they can contribute as much as any able-bodied person.
Lex tells The Pride: “Volunteering offers me a host of advantages from the chance to learn new skills to the opportunity to meet new people.”
They also champion the idea of digital inclusion— more inclusive technology with people with disabilities.
In early 2020, when Covid had just hit. Kit Bian and his volunteers wanted to show appreciation for the frontline workers and their families through doing photoshoots.
“Our tagline was ‘There is always a family behind every hero’”, says Kit Bian. However, the project had to be scrapped when the pandemic situation worsened.
Despite that setback, Kit Bian continued to train volunteers in photography. Last year, DCV set up a photo booth at Singapore Kindness Movement’s Kindness Day SG event in 313@somerset.
Digital ambassadors from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) also consulted DCV volunteers to better understand problems faced by people with disabilities.
Just looking for a chance to help
Of course, there are difficulties when running a non-profit where volunteers have disabilities.
The main issue is their level of mobility. They do better working remotely or stationed at more static events where they can set up a booth for event participants, explains Kit Bian.
Says another volunteer, 35-year-old Li Zhen: “I have limited mobility and due to a lack of transportation I prefer to volunteer via phone or computer at home by helping other organization on graphic design and manage website.”
But given enough time to plan, and a clear event brief, Kit Bian believes that his volunteers are more than capable of rising to the task.
His volunteers don’t want money, time, or pity. Instead, they hope for opportunities to provide a service – to be useful and to feel useful.
He says: “All they want is a chance to give back.”
Most importantly, their presence at events helps to shape how the public sees those with disabilities – not as liabilities, but as those who can actively contribute.
Despite the struggles, Kit Bian says he is inspired to keep going when his volunteers share their hopes and dreams with him and their attitude towards life.
Says Firhad, 21: “I volunteer to give back to my community. I want to reciprocate for the help I received from others.”
Projects in the pipeline
Currently, Kit Bian and his team are preparing to train students and alumni from Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore with help from a team from Govtech, which has developed a special system – called ePad – to assist users with limited upper limb mobility.
Those who suffer from cerebral palsy often do not have the upper body strength to position cameras to take photos and video. ePad specifically addresses this need, as it is an accessible mounting platform that pans and tilts computer tablets, providing persons with disabilities with the independence and autonomy to use the tablet effectively to take photos and video.
Next month (Mar 2023), DCV volunteers are working with IMDA to help hawkers go digital by creating digital marketing platforms for them.
Kit Bian is proud that despite his volunteers’ disabilities, they are able to help “hawkers to move forward digitally”.
DCV is also working with ITE for peer-to-peer group learning internship programmes. This helps ITE students learn about social cues and awareness when dealing with PWDs, and in turn, helps the volunteers build their social experience and exposure.
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Kit Bian hopes that in time, he would be able to take a back seat to running DCV. Instead of having a third-party speaking for the PWDs, he wants them to be able to speak for themselves.
“It is more powerful when they can speak for themselves, using ‘I am…’ to describe who they are and what they do.”
Adds Kah Whye, 27, “I am disabled but I am still able to help others and give back to the community and help make a difference.”
At the end of the day, inclusivity is about empowerment.
“Don’t do something for people with disabilities,” says Kit Bian: “Work with them to do something.”