Offering new perspectives on life

Lim crossed canes with an old man who bullied her.

A CORNERED girl crossing swords with an old man. An adventurer lost on her first voyage in a new vessel. A man who creates a silver world of wire.

With their own words and voices, three people with disabilities (PWD) offer viewers a glimpse into their lives in the docudrama Perspectives: Seeing Beyond Disabilities.

The brisk-paced 24-minute film features three monologues interjected with sweet, almost haunting melodies by five youths from the Harmony Community Choir.

Supported by the National Arts Council of Singapore, the film premiered in Malaysia as part of the ongoing George Town Festival (GTF) 2021 and is available for viewing online until Sunday.

Lim Lee Lee, who began the project after she was approached to be involved with the international disability movement Thrive Aid, kicked off the narrative with a harrowing tale of being followed on her way home.

“I was 15 years old and school was just over. It was the most carefree part of the day for me. Homework could wait till it’s too late.

“I heard the sound of my cane tapping a steady beat against the familiar sound of the traffic,” said Lim, who is visually impaired.

Her usual return journey was interrupted by the voice of an old man shouting, calling her a devil.

“(In Hokkien) Si mi kui? Si mi kui? Lu eng kai ti cu! Lu an chua tua chi tau?

Translated: What devil is this? You should be home! Why are you here?” Lim recalled him saying.

Shocked, she tried to get away but the man followed her nonetheless until he finally blocked her path.

Nervousness gave way to anger as Lim raised her voice to demand that the man step aside.

“I wasn’t going to budge. I wanted to confront him head on.

“I was young. I was brave!.

“All of a sudden, I felt his walking stick hitting my white cane.

“Wow, this is serious business! Blind girl, crossing canes with an old man,” she said.

Just in time, a passer-by came to Lim’s aid and led her away but now, years on, Lim looks back on the whole episode with regret.

“I’m no longer fearful or angry. I hope that we will cross paths again one day.

“Maybe I will offer to buy him a meal. Maybe he needs a friend. Maybe he had a bad day.

“So many questions, but the most important thing is: Was I able to help?” she wonders to this day.For the fully-abled, Perspectives is an eye-opening film as the subtitles are entirely comprehensive, covering even changes in background music.

To also be fully accessible to the blind, each new setting is described in the audio narration along with every change in movement of those on the screen and every line of the credits being read out.

Through this, the audience is made aware of how small changes in a film can greatly magnify the viewing experience of PWD.

In the post-screening discussion after the GTF premiere on July 11, director Peggy Ferroa said she wanted to highlight the common treads that linked the disabled and fully-abled communities.

“Lim Lee Lee is someone who had to face a threatening person. Stephanie Esther Fam is someone who got lost.

“Victor Tan is someone who believes in himself and the Harmony Community Choir, like so many of us, love music.

“I wanted to focus not on the disabilities but on the stories of the people here,” she said.

In fact, although often put front and centre, the disability of a person is often not the main thing that shapes their lives.

Accomplished wire sculptor Victor Tan, for example, who is featured in the film, makes no mention that he is visually impaired on the main pages of his website.

“In this world, there are so many interesting things for us to ponder... to experience...

“Art has a character that allows you to be different; to tell your story in a way that you can share with others,” said the 1999 winner of The Commonwealth Arts and Crafts Award.

Tan, who had perfect vision for over 20 years before losing his sight, has studied both ceramics and fabric art but found both mediums too limiting.

He now concentrates on life-sized creations made exclusively with wire.

“Wire gives the freedom to create in any environment.

“I can draw in the air or on the floor. There are no boundaries,” Tan explained during the post- screening dialogue.

Tan has been invited to exhibit all around the world and his intricate artwork can be found from China to France along with numerous public sculptures in his hometown of Singapore in venues like Sentosa Island, the Orchard Central Rooftop Garden and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Through Perspectives, both Tan and Fam, who appears last in the film, strongly encourage the public to ask questions to the disabled community instead of assuming that they know their needs and desires.

“Disability, like many different kinds of wheelchairs, is not a ‘one-size fits all’ item.

“Neither does it define who you are or what you can do,” Fam said in her testimony.

She gave an example of a taxi driver who, though well-intended, hampered and slowed her exit from the cab by trying to assist her instead of asking whether she needed help.

“Everybody in this world has different needs.

“So, why is it so difficult to acknowledge that PWD have different needs?

“Why don’t we find out about each other? Ask us what we want. Ask us what we need.

“Ask us what we like,” she said.

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