SHEROES Bios: Debra Lam, Society Staples

Debra Lam

SHEROES Bios is a collection of 12 selected stories taken from “ULTRAordinary SHEROES”, a collaborative project by The HEART Enterprise, Up Your Game Community, and Our Unique Stories to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019.

In 2012, Debra co-founded Deaf Dragons, a dragon boating team that mainly comprises of Deaf members. While she had done it simply as part of a volunteering initiative with her friends, that marked the start of her transformative journey.

Growing up with two brothers diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Debra is well acquainted with the discrimination her siblings face on a daily basis. As a child, she did not know how to connect with them and simply accepted their meltdowns as part of life. In order to feel ‘normal’ at school, she kept her brothers’ condition a secret and pretended to have a ‘normal’ family. In Secondary 2, she became friends with a classmate who was unashamed of having a brother with special needs. That made her realise that people could hold such contrasting views of the same disability.

Despite that realisation, it was the interaction with the Deaf paddlers at Deaf Dragons that truly broadened and changed Debra’s perspective of People With Disabilities (PWDs). “I realised that they were really not much different from us,” she says, “And it’s the barriers in society that prevent them from achieving the same things.”

The success of Deaf Dragons in the dragon boating scene, coupled with Debra’s new perspective of PWDs, led to the inception of Society Staples in 2015. Instead of employment, Society Staples focuses on the mental and emotional well-being of PWDs. The social enterprise creates opportunities for the public to interact with PWDs so that social integration and a better quality of life for PWDs can be achieved.

Debra currently runs Society Staples and is an advocate for PWDs. She reveals that being a social entrepreneur came as a surprise to her. “As a kid, doing good meant earning a huge pay cheque and donating 5% of it,” she laughs, “but now I see that there are so many other ways of helping the community.”

“Even when Society Staples gives talks in organisations, we always emphasise that being inclusive boils down to the individual person. In your personal capacity, what can you do? It doesn’t have to be organisations spearheading the movement, it can be individuals like you and me.”

Debra’s story first appeared at the ULTRAordinary SHEROES event organised by The HEART Enterprise and DISTRii Singapore on 8 March 2019.