Dialogue on Inclusion: Interview with Cassandra Chiu – Blind Author of “A Place For Us”

Cassandra Chiu - a former Dialogue in the Dark Singapore blind collaborator - has written and published a book called “A Place For Us.”

Cassandra and Esme Portrait

I read more and found out that the book is a compilation of Cassandra’s journey to advocacy. She was among the first owners of a guide dog in Singapore. In “A Place For Us,” her experiences as a blind woman take us into a journey through the reality of inclusion – or the lack of it – in Asia.

Cassandra is a psychotherapist. She manages the Safe Harbor Counselling Center in Singapore, and is a social advocate for equal opportunities. I had the privilege to interview her:

DSE: Cassandra, for some period of time you worked for Dialogue in the Dark Singapore. How was it?

CC: Yes, I was trained as a guide and workshop facilitator in 2011, and I  worked off and on in Dialogue for about 2  years before my other responsibilities in managing my own counselling clinic and the social advocacy work. I am passionate about it, and those responsibilities simply overtook my schedule. I left Dialogue in 2013. It was a fond time of my life, where I had many supportive visually impaired colleagues: it was a real community!

DSE: How the idea of writing a book came to you?

CC: When the idea came to me, I was actually meditating on a futon  with a  90+ year old Japanese lady who is a  meditation guru at the top floor of Tokyo's  Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, with a  breath-taking view (not that I  could see it...).  Who inspired the idea behind the book was Esme - my guide dog. One of my good friends said once to me that I should write a book about my experiences with Esme entitled “The Trouble Is….”, because of all the issues we daily both face when going through public spaces. When thinking deeper about the challenges I faced with Esme, I came to the realisation that it is not just that Asians are not used to seeing a big dog in public places or are frightened of them. The real core of the challenge is the Asian attitude towards disabilities that perpetuate the challenges that disabled people face trying to find a place for ourselves in this world.  

DSE: I just love the title ”A Place For Us.” What is the core activity of your advocacy engagement?

CC:” A Place For Us” is about Asian attitudes towards disabilities. A backdrop of my life story from childhood to motherhood and building a career helps to demonstrate how these attitudes have a power to disempower and contain and define you as your disability. It also offers a possible solution for the way forward to truly include persons with disabilities in a shared tomorrow. Genuine inclusivity is not only about throwing fishes our way, but allowing us to have a place in this world we all share, and with that the opportunities to education, employment, getting around and life.  Our “hardware” is almost perfect, it’s quite accessible around here and I’m lucky to live in Singapore, but there is still some way to go when it comes to our “heartware” towards people with disability.

Personally, the very premise that we are “including” suggest that we have excluded first. Inclusivity should be about dignity, respect, equal opportunities.  I have been advocating for equal opportunities for people with disabilities through my guide dog's Facebook page EsmeTheGlobalGuideDog, and giving talks to the public and private sectors, as well as lecturing professionals who work with people with disabilities.

DSE: What would you like to achieve with this book?

CC: I desire to nudge society towards viewing people with disabilities as people first  and foremost. I want to inspire everyone to consider how, in our little ways, we interact with and impact our fellow countrymen and women  with disabilities. Whether you are a parent, teacher, bus driver, security guard, policy maker: your actions can go a long way. You can either empower or disempower someone with a disability.  Personally I've been very blessed with the opportunities I've been given. I hope that with this book, I can also send the  “ elevator “  down to bring more people with disabilities and regular people “up”. Together, we can create and enjoy a place for all of us.

DSE: Who are the key players on building a real place for us? People with disability? Associations and organizations? Schools? Governments?  Society? Families?

CC: All of the above and the network is even broader. We all have a part to play. And we can do that by actively  considering those 10-15% of the world’s population with disabilities as a part of our collective and give people with disability equal access to opportunities in order to realize their potential.  People with disabilities also need to step up and desire to play an active part in our society.

DSE: Why people should read this book?

CC: Nowadays, we are talking a lot more inclusion. However, to truly include and to make a difference, we need to hear and understand what the life of a person of disability is like. Our ideas of what's “best way” and how to include are just theories until the very people we want to include are part of the conversation and solution. In Asia, there is very little literature about disabled people who have spoken out about their lives and struggles. Instead, you will easily find a parent or teacher of a disabled person writing about “them”. Or you will stumble across the read about how inspirational a person with disability is, how they climbed this mountain, or how they miraculously did that  difficult thing. That is not what my little offering in “A Place For Us” seeks to do. I hope that with ”A Place For Us,” I can bring the lived experiences of someone with a  disability, as well as  offer a  platform to start a  conversation to co-create a  future where persons with disabilities can be genuinely included in our future.

DSE: How persons with disability create more awareness?

CC: Show the world our ability, change the narrative in Asia that people with disabilities are useless or just objects of pity. We can do many things, and focus on other areas outside disability world that we can be a part of the regular world.

DSE: Please invite the Dialogue network to read your book, as I am sure that everyone will enjoy it!

CC: I hope you enjoy “A Place For Us”.   And I hope you can share the message about genuine inclusivity with your friends, family, and co-workers. Together, I we CAN can create a place for all of us.

DSE: How can we buy your book?

CC: The various formats of “A Place For Us” can be found here.

DSE: I know “a place for us” was published in accessible versions including braille.

CC: For the first time in Singapore, a printed book is launched together with different accessible formats: hardcopy and softcopy braille, eBook. My publishers are also committed to produce an audio version of the book. Learning braille is something very important for someone losing their sight; it is a way to literacy skills and not only reading for information. So I'm very proud to have “A Place For Us” in braille, too.

DSE: Thank you very much for the interview, Cassandra. We hope this book will be read by many persons who will then proceed and contribute to build “a place for us”.

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You can follow Cassandra in her official website and Facebook.