dedication

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This blog is dedicated to:

My canine angel, Lucy Like-a-Charm.

My baby sister Althea, her wonderful hubby Robin, and her two furry boys Bizcuit & Tiny, and now also Mini-B, the prettiest sweetest little girl.

My loyal friends YS and Rick.

Without you, there would be no adventure, no narrative, no amazing tales to tell.

one more for the road!

Posting this up again because I am going to hand in my report to the National Arts Council next week, and will be gathering data in the next couple of days. For those who haven’t yet seen this, but would like to support my work, now is the time to click and watch!


“Scheherazade’s Sea: stories and songs from a hidden world,” 2020, is a full digitalisation of part of the original work presented in 2010 in Hong Kong, and subsequently in the UK in 2013. This iteration is supported by the NAC, Digital Presentation Grant.

More to come in 2021. Announcement soon!

Postscript: And yes, I am terribly poor at self-advertisement of any sort. For me, the focused, intense and passionate explication and driving force is the inexorable unfolding of creation. In simplistic terms, I live for the making of art itself, not really so much for getting people to see or hear or experience my work, and least of all the vigorous self-advertisement and stirrings that so dominate the normative-structured arts scene. If I had a choice, I’d rather be boring old repetitive J.S.Bach than to be Franz Liszt with all his glittery flair and panache. Yes, yes, I listen to Liszt, Chopin and the grand virtuosos too, but when I need to retreat into my Autistic Joy and Clement Space of Mind, Soul and Body, I always turn to J.S.Bach for respite, repair and redress. It pains me to have to labour over “getting it out there” not least because I am really poor and much disinterested in activity of this nature. But we are living in the 21st century, I have no ‘patron’ to support me, and the dominant system is a scratchy, bitchy, jealous, competitive, possessive, selfish and self-aggrandising one. Nevertheless, art must and will live on. Oh, if you would like to kindly share this video, please do. I believe in its message, it is from my own heart and soul, but I also need help with sharing the message because my energies are utterly depleted now. Thank you, my friends!

autistic joy vs ambition

I have the above pinned to the top of my Twitter profile now. In case you cannot read the words in the image, here they are again:

My childhood dream for a PhD has been fulfilled. Now, my middle-aged dream is to retire into obscurity, make art for myself only and knit warm sweaters for skinny rescued Greyhounds in Australia. Maybe also live to see Greyhound racing banned. Autistic Joy has nothing to prove.

It never was my ambition to be in the limelight, to hog the media, or even be seen as an “advocate” and definitely not an “activist”. I detest all these, actually. I hate politicking and vain-glorying, and the arena is always filled with the rancid acrid smells of these sad human obsessions. And, quite frankly, I do not have the mental or physical mettle, nor the patience, for such things. The labels were foisted on me, really. I’m compelled to do whatever I feel duty-bound to do because I am paying it forward, for all the support I have received along my way to fulfil my childhood dream of a PhD. Those four years were the best time of my life. Not a day goes by that I do not yearn for those days again, but of course I know that is an impossibility. Time and space hurtles ever forward. Now, what you see of me in public is just what I say it is: paying it forward. I speak and mentor only because I want to share whatever I have learned and benefitted from. That is all. I push for disabled leadership only because I feel that it is necessary for true access and inclusion to happen in my country. But I personally benefit very little from any of that for which I canvas, really. I am far too tired and I feel also too old to join the party if and when it happens. I hate parties anyway, remember? It is not for me. It is for the next generation.

One autistic ‘leader’ whom I mentored for a number of years, said this to me when I pulled out of something they’d wanted me to support and lend my name to due to a difference in ethos, “This is not going to go down well…” Go down well with and for whom? I think they missed an important point which sets us both miles apart: I live for nobody anymore but myself. I don’t need to “go down well” for anyone or any entity. Not anymore. I decided some time ago, after decades of living for others according to their own shifting and fickle parameters and demands, that enough was enough. I live for myself now, at least in the last half of my life.

I understand technically that people have ambitions, and autistic people are people too. I have ambitions too. Here it is: All I really want now is to retire, make art for myself and anyone else who may appreciate my work, and just knit sweaters for skinny Greyhounds in rescue kennels in Australia. You see, Australia gave me my PhD with no strings attached. And Lucy Like-a-Charm. So, this is my very simple autistic way of showing gratitude for the most precious gifts of my life.

My Autistic Joy has nothing to prove. It has no agenda outside of itself. This is probably the one biggest thing that my detractors just cannot seem to understand. But that is ok. I’ve never been one for the crowd anyway, autistic or not. I’m happy. My only wish is that Lucy lives long, well and happy. My only regret is not being able to repay my cosmic debt to Lucy to the fullest.

toxic swamp

Humans are humans. And I don’t much like my own specie. But I am locked inside an embodiment I did not choose. My refuge is in the minutiae of the vast universe. And Lucy Like-a-Charm, my living Clement Space.

Some humans are like a conglomeration of tiny organisms from a toxic swamp. The moment they enter my physical space, the palpable air becomes sullied by their dark, dank and thickly noxious plume. The texture of their expression grates against the already wearied soul, and their tentacles of malice and witchery wind themselves around the throat of truth, making little sucking noises as they attach and begin to asphyxiate. At times like these, there is no way out but to brave it as valiantly as I can, and there is always the blade of gentle stillness that can and does cut through those slimy rotting slithery arms. They grow back, of course, those tentacles, because these humans are unstoppable and relentless, and they are driven by their own delusions of grandeur which actually stem from pitiful self-loathing and pathetic jealousy. I do feel sad for them, but I have learned not to tarry too long, not to stand too close, and never to allow the insidious poison to take over my Clement Space.

“I am so much better than her!”

“I am a XXXX scholar!”

“I have 2 / 3 / 4 etc Masters degrees!”

“If I had the money, I’d also do a PhD!” (I didn’t have the money, by the way, I was given a full scholarship.)

“I’m much better then her, I just wasn’t given the same opportunities!”

“I am the most gentle, kind, forgiving and beautiful of them all.”

“I’m so attractive, X, Y and Z all want me so badly!”

etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Competition, comparison, dissatisfaction, jealousy and hatred. Such tiring and self-destructive pursuits. I cannot understand why some people seem to thrive on these, as if the toxic fuel is a source of strength and verve for them. They roar and bellow, they wail and screech, they point and shake, and they stampede. Never satisfied, never without their handbags full of convoluted intrigue, and oh so deluded, always boasting out loud how much desired they are, how much more exalted they are, and how they are adored by who-and-who-else. Perhaps they really need to say those things to help them get by through the drudgery of life? Life is cruel, to be sure. But so much energy is wasted on witchery and envy. That is sure a lot of energy that I do not possess. Some days the physical pain is so excruciating, I wonder what I am doing here on this horribly mangled planet at all. I don’t want to “succeed” or “achieve” or embark on any of those vain, self glorifying pursuits so prized by humans. Human constructs are so wearisome and meaningless, all that sad, pathetic and pitiful clutching at broken straws in the churning and heaving ecology of pernicious striving holds nothing of value to me. I just want to lie down with Lucy. Just Be with her. Nothing else.

You know what, dear envious, high-protesting, low-whispering folks, stabbing the air with gnarled angry finger in my direction, you can have it all. I have never actively competed with you inside your sad unhappy headspace and never will. You can be better than me. It’s ok. Go ahead and take that rusty goblet and put it to your dry parched lips. Drink deep of the assurance. I am not thirsty, you can gulp it all down. You can be all of whatever adorable, desirable, intellectual, talented, holy, moral etc human you want to be. Because it won’t make any difference to me, the road I have to tread, my burdens and my joy. I am not ambitious, combative or competitive. I give what I can give, I pay it forward because others have given freely to me, and then I want the freedom to walk my own path unhindered.

We began in the same toxic swamp that we did not choose to enter, we grew up together in an uncomfortable juxtaposition of chains and cages, all gilded with gold but hiding the appalling grief and rot beneath. But I’ve now made a new life of setting myself free. I did not turn my back on you. You just did not want to co-exist or journey with me, you never did, you were always striving to be the one and only superstar, and I have moved on from that seething, steaming miry bog which you are still wallowing in, your curled, snarling lips issuing forth the same chronically miserable gossip, complaints, whining punctuated by surges of brittle self-righteous pronouncements and tear-jerking hallelujahs.

I travel ever onwards along my own inexorable journey. You can do what you wish. It is your choice and your path.

I am sad that we could not be friends and will never be. But I will not miss you at all. Bitter strife is just not for me, the garish glitter doesn’t suit me. I want a quiet life, free to pursue my own Autistic Joy. And for as long as she will tarry, all I need is Lucy Like-a-Charm.

Clement Space at Suwon

Clement Space @Suwon is right now installed at the Suwon Museum of Art, South Korea. Details in my official website – click on this link.

This is my very first time exhibiting in South Korea. It was a really good experience communicating with the team via email. No, I am not physically there, but my works are. Thank you, Jinseon and the entire team, who sought me out, connected and most patiently and politely walked me through the entire process. They sent the freight company over too, and I didn’t have to worry at all about the nitty gritty, all I did was create a brand new structure for them – and they weren’t even asking for one, they said at the beginning they were happy to take whatever I already had. I agreed at first, but later, nearer the shipping date, I decided that “anything worth doing is worth doing well”, so I made a brand new Clement Space tent for them. I am so glad I did. The process was balm to a very chaffed and sore autistic soul, battling non-autism related but autistic-hypersensitivity-triggered pain from a lifelong inflammatory autoimmune condition because of overly long hours (16 hours a day to be precise) at the computer in a cramped sitting position trying to finish multiple tasks simultaneously, most of which were mind mangling and boring to the point of stress triggering. And when I am extremely stressed, my body starts to shout at me, setting off the horrifying and excruciating process of pain, pain and more pain da capo! Steroids and painkillers have become my friends, and lately, they have been enjoying rather exalted status. So, this little pocket of Clement Space – space within space, thought within contemplation – was a blessing.

‘Making’ has always been a calming and rejuvenating process for me. Four days of creating the tent from scratch brought Lucy and me back to the good old days again. Not a day goes by that I do not miss those four years in Sydney. Sure, it was very hard, and I had to learn some really stark lessons about life and living, but with Lucy by my side, working towards a lifelong dream and making it come true, will remain the highlight of my life. As I was cutting, fitting and stitching, Lucy helped me ‘test’ the tent. She knew what it was immediately when she saw me set it up and begin to wrap the netting around it – we were both transported back to our blissful heady days, working together, breathing in gentle synchrony and oh, what sensory bliss it was. Just four days, far too short, but a Clement Space inside inclement space creating Clement Space.

Thank you, Jinseon, Hyun Jin, and team at Suwon Museum of Art!

Scheherazade’s Sea: stories & songs from a hidden world.

Dear Friends, it’s out at last! Here we go:

Welcome to “Scheherazade’s Sea: stories and songs from a hidden world.”

In the next twenty minutes or so, through video, stories, poetry and songs, you will see, hear and experience tiny reflections from my Autistic world.

The title is inspired by Scheherazade in the ‘Arabian Nights’ folk tales, whose stories to the wicked Sultan helped her survive and saved her life.

My Scheherazade is an Autistic girl, journeying alone through an unkind world, where she encounters confusing twists and turns of lies, betrayal and disappointment. When at last, she begins to embrace and love her unique Autistic self with courage and determination, Scheherazade discovers that her Autistic world, Scheherazade’s Sea, while misunderstood by others, is actually a beautiful one, full of wonderment and hope, a deep and wide ocean alive with infinite possibilities. It is then, that she finds strength within to continue along her journey, bravely embracing her unique Autistic Joy.

“Scheherazade’s Sea: stories and songs from a hidden world” is fully digitalised and revised from its original version, which was performed in Hong Kong in 2010, and The World Stage Design Festival in Cardiff, U.K. in 2013.

Sound engineering by Karen Low (Singapore)
Portrait of Scheherazade by Kateryna Fury (USA)
Little Duckling narrated by Sumita Majumdar (UK)

Supported by the National Arts Council Singapore & SG Culture Anywhere.

empathy damaged

Too much empathy can leave one seriously damaged. When one senses too deeply and those senses wrap around each small minute tendril of pain emanating from someone else who is suffering, the effects of this connection can be soul destroying. The pain is felt even long after the other person has recovered.

Contrary to popular mythology perpetuated by some people who themselves are severely lacking in empathy, Autistic people are not all devoid of ability to feel for others. But let’s just leave this debate aside for a moment, shall we? I am pondering empathy – regardless of whatever neurological label we own.

Could it be that the people who are ‘shut down’ are the ones most likely to be damaged by the slightest connection to the massive circuitry of pain and suffering of all humanity, and the repercussions of human suffering upon the entire ecosystem of this fragile, beautiful earth? The Christian bible says that Jesus died from a broken heart, with the weight of the world – all the sins of humanity – upon his shoulders. This is one amazing description of what I call Empathy Damage.

But most of humanity don’t seem to be aware of the existence of some of us who suffer from this ‘impairment’ that is Empathy Damage Syndrome. When loved ones suffer, when friends go through painful experiences, when those you love attack one another – a person whose empathic system is overly acute becomes overwhelmed by the intense surge of pain that shoots through the entire body, mind and soul. There is so much contained in this deluge, so many small details, patterns, rhythms, flavours and sensations that the empathic body is unable to process, the agony becomes unbearable, yet one must bear it anyway. Shutdown is the best option, but it is too often mistaken for selfishness and being uncaring. So we don’t shut down, we try our best to make clumsy and ultimately ineffective gestures to show that we care. Ineffective because while we feel the pain, we do not know how to provide the kind of release or comforting that the original sufferer wants, expects or needs. We are overwhelmed by the pain, we carry their pain as well as our own. And we go into a terrible frightening downward spiral into ever widening ever deeper and more ominous abysses of the soul.

And then there is the tragic ‘comedy’ that unfolds. I always utter things that sound ridiculous, sometimes I even manage to offend the person I want to comfort, because this is my impairment: I don’t have a solution to offer – how dare I even begin to presume that I can solve their problem? – and I don’t know what kinds of platitudes to provide that will help the person. I am at a loss for words, but if I remain silent, just carrying the pain with the person, they will think I am uncaring. In fact, I have been roundly accused of being uncaring or of deliberately ignoring the suffering person because of my silence. Yet, what good are mere words in such situations? Or so I think. But I am not other people. And they are not me. Human relationships are so simple in their senseless complexity. And worded communication seems to ineffective and pathetic – to me, anyway. Yet, looking at the human need for words, I am beginning to wonder… Perhaps words are useful things after all, since people seem to want to hear and say so many words? Another conundrum to feel, taste, touch, smell and be haplessly unable to process.

It hurts so deeply, being empathy damaged. Empathy is soul crushing when one goes beyond a certain superficial point.

bird

I managed to get a few photos of mum’s little bird this morning. The bird comes twice a day to this plant of mum’s in our patio, and sings a little high-pitched tune that has sweet trills in it. A routine that mum has looked forward to through the years. How long do birds live? I am a complete ignoramus. But this bird has been a regular visitor for some time. I think it brings mum some comfort and joy, especially since she is no longer strong enough to get out and about on her own these days. Mum sits at the chaise lounge near the patio door and waits for this tiny little bird. She wanted me to try and get some photos of her little bird, so here they are. It is quite elusive and camera shy, or maybe just wary of humans, I’m a novice photographer with shaky hands and I don’t have a very far reaching zoom lens, so this is the best I could do for now.

I’m still learning how to use the super cool camera that my friend Minh gave me. Something to look forward to in October, when I plan to take a short break from frenetic work and just potter around with Lucy.

P.S. A friend has informed me that this is a Tropical Sunbird, male. Good to know. 🙂

symbol

( ** Since my rambling rant here, I now think I understand a little better the situation. It was probably the company engaged by the event organisers that did this dastardly thing. The actual event organisers are good folk. 🙂 Autistic Bunny rants can become quite colourful, like fireworks on a dry day, but I am always on a look out to rectify any misunderstanding.** )

It has never happened before, and I was thus unprepared. When I saw it, I was hit instantly by a nauseous feeling in my core; it was a dull thud rather than a sharp piercing, as if a large, round and smooth stone had collided forcefully with my diaphragm, the shock waves travelling all the way into the centre of my Being. However, in true autistic manner, it took weeks and weeks of rumination, literally chewing and gnashing over this, before I could formulate a cohesive set of worded expression to talk about it at all. I exist mostly in a sensorial realm, and despite the normative world thinking that I am clever with words, I really cannot react as spontaneously with the worded domain as when in my senses, and the meanings that exist inside the sensorial realm will not make sense to the worded world. So I appear to only be ‘reacting’ now and not immediately then, because nobody was there inside my senses but myself when it happened. I needed a lot of time to translate those sensations into words.

The thing:

My profile photograph was cropped and cut up by an event organiser and published in their publicity materials. Lucy was sliced away, even though her face was touching mine. Nobody consulted or informed me beforehand.

Basic manners 101: When I send my profile photo to an event organiser, I entrust this image to them, to deal with respectfully. If it is deemed unsuitable for reasons like sizing, resolution or shape, the event organiser should get in touch with me and discuss this or ask for another one that fits their requirements. That is the standard reasoning, is it not? But I’m not a standard-issue human. To be honest, I’m generally not fussy about photographs of me because I don’t think I ever look great in them anyway. I am now an old lady with a too-fat face, bloated as a result of the medications I have to take, and wearing a buzz cut because I cannot be bothered with long hair anymore. It really isn’t an issue of vanity. So, why am I so upset now?

Ah… you see… It isn’t the act of cropping that offended me. It was who they cut away that threw me off kilter and sparked my ire. They removed Lucy.

I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with anthropomorphism. I don’t want to pretend she is a human being. Yes, I know, many pet owners do this. That is one of the many human traits that I find quite bizarre, though I don’t tell them so, because I know they will be very hurt, and why would I wish to hurt anyone who loves their pets? In all seriousness, why should I want another human (with fur and four legs – how awful) in my life? I am not fond of humans. Lucy is a dog. I relate with her as a human would, with all my own speckled humanity, to a dog, canis lupus familiaris, in all her canid glory.

I use this profile photograph as my official one because, to me, Lucy is everything that I am, here and now. I would not even be alive today, were it not for Lucy, who actively intervened twice to save me, in a way no human ever could do. I owe her my life.

It is not a frivolous thing, I don’t say it for drama, it is just the simple truth. And there is more. Lucy was a crucial part of my PhD journey in such a way that no words could do justice to. I wrote about this phenomenon in my PhD dissertation, but no matter how beautiful my writing may have been at the time, human words as they are cannot describe the wealth of meaning that exists in our shared ecology of parallel embodiments within Clement Space. So, I do it with a visual image: this photograph of us both, taken in 2012, when Lucy first entered my life. It is a symbol of our joint existence. It speaks what words cannot.

When the event people cropped Lucy out, they not only stuck a visually awkward and aesthetically distorted photograph onto their publicity material – a too huge headshot and a cut up dog’s face, how visually pleasing can that be? – but more importantly, at a fundamental level, they violated Lucy.

Removed her image from beside me.

Forcefully separated us.

Disfigured my expression of Being, and dismembered the rich tapestry of my journey to where I am now.

“She’s just a dog.” I hear these words a lot. Humans either anthropomorphise their pets or they consider animals beneath them. Yes, I know. That is reality. I am not living in Disneyland. I do not expect these people to understand and say otherwise.

Oh, but, hey, wait: I am not a dog! I was the one who submitted this photograph, I placed it in their hands. So, even if they don’t like dogs, would they not at least treat my choice with the respect that a fellow human being ought to have in this human-centric world?

Discombobulation. I do not understand it. The fact that it has never happened before in the last 8 years at numerous events in different countries makes this even more mysterious. Is this a cultural quirk that I never knew existed in my own homeland? Or just one random scissor-happy, dog-hating human?

Irony? They – the event organiser – would not even have heard about me, nor invited me to their event, were it not for Lucy Like-a-Charm. A quiet, unassuming, undemanding Greyhound, rescued from a former life of torture and abuse at the hands of greedy, barbaric humans in the dog racing industry. She has lived with poise and grace, despite her past, surpassing most of the pet dogs I have ever met in her dignity, quiet confidence and forbearance. I have had pet dogs before. All my life, in fact. I loved them all. As pet dogs. But Lucy is not a pet dog. Nor is she only an assistance dog that can be replaced once she is past her usefulness. There is only one Lucy Like-a-Charm to whom I owe my presence in this world of the living, and my life’s greatest joys and achievements. There would have been no Dr. Dawn-joy Leong were it not for Lucy Like-a-Charm. I don’t say this with frivolity. It is humbling, yes, that a dog could do this, but this human has learned from this very unique dog what it means to humble my navel-gazing human-centricity and appreciate lessons from an entity that is not of my own specie.

So, if you are reading this as an event organiser, even if you do not quite understand all the above, even if it is just nonsensical drivel to you, just remember this one point then: if I ever hand you this photograph, please make sure you ask me before you defile Lucy’s image. And if you think a photograph of a dog is inappropriate to feature in your ‘serious’ event, then I want nothing to do with your event. I don’t need you. But I need Lucy and I wish to remain faithful to all she is to me.

Thank you.

heard & included

The Autism Network of Singapore put up this set of inclusive memes, and they used Identity-First language for this post and also to include this in their future posts after I explained to them that the vast majority of Autistic people around the world are proud of our identities and prefer to refer to ourselves as Autistic / autistic, rather than “with autism”.

It’s great to be heard. It’s wonderful to see that our voices are validated. It’s encouraging to know that an autism organisation want to walk the talk alongside actually Autistic people. It’s progress when we are heard and included in the conversation: About Us With Us.

Thank you, ANS!

Seeing Clearly

Here’s a post copied from my ‘official’ website. It is a piece that I wrote for the Birthday Book 20/20.


This morning, the Birthday Book 2020 arrived. Even though I don’t get a single cent of royalties from this book, I am glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to this collection, and I chose a topic that is important to me: disability. I’m allowed to share my own essay in my networks, and so here it is. But before you read the piece, please check out my Facebook post for some background information, and do please join us at the launch if you can. Thank you!

And here is the short essay:

Seeing Singapore Clearly through the Eyes of Disability – Dawn-joy Leong
First published in The Birthday Book 20/20: Seeing Clearly edited by Selina Chong and Chua Jun Yan (Singapore: The Birthday Collective, 2020).

I was born in the year of Singapore’s independence. My childhood memories were filtered through the lenses of my immediate world. To me, Singapore was a small, brave country with a firm but capable government dedicated to creating better lives for citizens.

My parents had friends from diverse backgrounds and I was taught to embrace diversity. Father, a dental surgeon, often saw patients who could not afford to pay for treatment. Out of gratitude, they brought him whatever they had: home- baked cakes and food, eggs from their kampung chickens and even the occasional live fowl. Mother was a teacher, and she used to give extra lessons to students who were floundering and unable to afford private tuition. I remember mother bringing me along during some of her home visits, armed with books, stationery and food for the students and their families.

I lived a life of relative privilege, but my parents inculcated in me a sense of civic duty. They taught me to view everyone with compassion and respect. I also firmly believed in our National Pledge’s commitment to “justice and equality”. Despite being labeled as “eccentric”, I enjoyed a healthy social life, and employment was not an issue. Unaffected by discrimination or injustice, I naively believed there wasn’t any in Singapore.

Then I found out at the age of forty-two, while pursuing an M.Phil in music composition at the University of Hong Kong, that I am Autistic. After Hong Kong, I received a Ph.D scholarship at the University of New South Wales, Australia. I openly and proudly identified as Autistic, using the Identity-First language preferred by most Autistic people globally. I acquired a psychiatric assistance dog, Lucy, for my sensory anxiety, with the legal right to have her with me everywhere I went. I helped to found an Autism Research Group comprising autistic and non-autistic members across different disciplines. I was awarded my school’s “Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research”, an accolade given to one top PhD candidate per year.

It was only upon returning to Singapore, proudly identifying as Autistic, that my erstwhile gentle and salubrious world cracked open to a harsh reality. In late 2016, Lucy and I made an exciting journey to Singapore, traveling in-cabin together for the first time. My elation quickly fizzled away when I stepped out of Changi and found that Lucy was not welcome in most places. Assistance dogs for the disabled have existed for many decades, yet most Singaporeans – including those who work in the field of disability – had never heard of them, apart from Guide Dogs for the blind.

The stability of full-time employment eluded me. Non-disabled people claiming to be disability experts corrected me in my use of self-identifying terminology, as if they knew better. When I asked for an honorarium to speak at events, I was told variously that I should be grateful for the “exposure”, or that I should work for the benefit of my “own community”, or that experienced artists should give talks without payment to”‘inspire” young people.

Strangely enough, these people were paid to do their jobs in whatever enterprise they represented. Here was my reply: I did engage in volunteer work. For example, I was and am a Board Member of the Disabled People’s Association. But it is my right – and not someone else’s – to decide to whom I offer my time, energy and expertise. Disabled people have higher bills to pay just to exist. How are we to do so if all we ever did was volunteer work?

Where are the voices of those who are actually disabled in this cacophony of “awareness” and “inclusion”? Disabled leadership is not about exclusive power or taking away jobs from the non-disabled, but rather having a dignified place at the table where our voices – personal and professional – may be valued alongside our non-disabled peers. 

My story does not end in tragedy and hopelessness. After two years of knocking repeatedly at the nebulous “glass ceiling”, I decided that the way forward was self-employment. I met disabled and non-disabled people who were sincere and committed to the goal of equity and progress and unafraid to step into uncharted ground. These included university professors, young researchers, representatives of organisations, and people with diverse disabilities joining together to widen horizons beyond old models of charity.

In 2019, I co-founded the Disabled Artists’ Collective, a pan-disability group of freelance artists. I began collaborating with theatre producer-director Peter Sau, a pioneer in theatre practice with disabled artists. I helmed Singapore’s first disabled-led artist residency at library@orchard, featuring three neurodivergent artists from the Disabled Artists’ Collective. In June, I was one of two Autistic Plenary Speakers at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019, marking the first time actual Autistic persons were represented prominently in a major autism event in Singapore.

In 2020, six members of the Disabled Artists’ Collective performed in a groundbreaking promenade theatre show, “Something About Home”. It was Singapore’s first fully accessible and inclusive mainstream professional production featuring disabled artists, but not limited to the arts and disability platform. The National Gallery also commissioned my work, Clement Space, a calm room based on my research in Autism, designed from within the Autistic paradigm.

As a disabled person, I see Singapore more clearly now than ever before. Insecurity, ignorance and exploitation prevail, but there is also sincere intent, commitment, and vast potential. I wish for a Singapore where the disabled and non-disabled have equal rights to stand together as “one united nation, based on justice and equality”.

Here is my raison d’être:

“It is not my purpose to ‘fix’ what is ‘broken’, but to empower beauty in the vulnerable and unseen.” Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010.


To order the book, please head to the Birthday Collective’s website. They’re offering a 10% discount for pre-launch orders (online launch happening 22 August this Saturday!). ** I don’t earn a single cent of royalties but do please support this good work!