Being Unapologetic About Taking Up Space

The folding bench (and cushions) in office that serve as my rest/nap area.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of hosting Siew Ling, one of the contributors for our latest release Not Without Us: Perspectives on Disability and Inclusion in Singapore, at the book launch. Siew Ling is Deafblind; as such, I mainly communicated with her through WhatsApp. After I sent her a message, her braille display would translate the words for her to read, whereupon she would respond to me verbally.

Despite this somewhat unorthodox back-and-forth, our conversation flowed smoothly. Siew Ling was a delight to get to know, often cracking jokes and sharing generously about her life and experiences. Though I was silent, focused on typing on my phone, our publisher Kah Gay, who was driving us to and from the event, could tell that a lively exchange was taking place through Siew Ling’s spoken replies.

When I accompanied her home after the event, she showed me how, with the assistance of her friend and the Town Council, braille numbers had been placed at all lift panels so she could navigate with ease upon reaching her block.

In her chapter, Siew Ling relates other innovative ways she handles life. She reflects, “no doubt the world is not made for disabled people; instead disabled people and the people around them are problem-solvers”.

Personally, as I grow increasingly heavy, fatigued and uncomfortable nearing the full-term mark of my pregnancy, Siew Ling’s openness and can-do spirit have been a revelation. How we relate to our bodies doesn’t have to centre limitations or shame—but rather, creative opportunities.

For me, that’s been about learning to make allowances for my changing body and take action for my needs, even if it feels opposed to my reserved nature: carving out a small rest space in the office, pushing a clattering trolley bag to transport my laptop without strain, asking for a seat on the train.  

As Christy Tending puts it in her essay “Things that Able Me”, sometimes we simply have to learn how to express our needs without “apologi[sing] for it or undermin[ing] [ourselves]”. And this is reason enough: “I am worth getting my needs met, with or without a disability. I am worth taking up space.”


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