Shattering the barriers that silence us
“Some people might see disability theatre and take it as an opportunity for inspiration porn. ‘You poor thing, you’re so brave, you’re superhuman, you’re so inspiring.’ That’s charity, not parity."
The buzzing in your ear that doesn’t go away, drowning out all other sounds. A song that seems to get louder and louder, as if the singer is singing right into your ear.
The world recedes, and a heavy veil of noise descends, silencing everything else.
This is Grace Lee-Khoo’s world. Growing up she was often labelled a “daydreamer” or a “space cadet”. “All my life I assumed I didn’t hear very well, because I wasn’t paying attention. But here I am, trying to listen to my friend. Her mouth is moving, but I can’t hear the words,” says Grace.
Eventually, Grace saw a doctor and was told she has tinnitus — the perception of noise or ringing in the ears that can range from a low roar to a high squeal, affecting a person’s ability to hear. “It was like, ‘Mystery solved!’ Life goes on!” says Grace.
By then, she was also already a theatre practitioner who had founded Access Path Productions to discover and nurture disability-led work.
A former teacher, Grace had returned to her first love, theatre, and went to pursue her Masters in Applied Theatre in the United Kingdom in 2015.
There, she immersed herself in the art form’s potential to open doors for marginalised persons, who are still often regarded as objects of pity in mainstream society.
“Some people might see disability theatre and take it as an opportunity for inspiration porn. ‘You poor thing, you’re so brave, you’re superhuman, you’re so inspiring.’ That’s charity,” says Grace.
“And I saw this other model that was, ‘We are here to reflect. We are here to examine ourselves’. That’s the kind of work I realised I had always wanted to make.
“It is about changing people’s attitudes towards disability. It highlights the fact that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. It helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people.”
Returning to Singapore, Grace founded Access Path Productions in 2018. The same year, Access Path co-produced And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore-UK ‘d’ monologues by Kaite O’Reilly, a disability-led theatre project created between UK and Singapore artists.
For Grace, advocating alongside the marginalised is about “parity, not charity”.
“I, alongside many others, would still very much like to live in a warm environment where people would not see my impairment as a flaw, a burden or something to fuss over but just something to collectively accommodate,” she says.
She adds: “We always seem to want to hide our flaws or ignore them. But isn't that what makes us different? What makes us so wonderfully unique?”
So while “inclusion” may be a buzzword, Grace hopes that Access Path’s performances and activities can engage people of all abilities in a deeper way.
“It’s about participation. Inclusion is like getting an invite to the party, but participation is when you are invited to dance. And we should all be dancing.”
About Access Path Productions
Lee How Chuen
This story was done in partnership with The MeshMinds Foundation.
Singapore International Foundation supported Access Path Production’s participation in the And Suddenly I Disappear UK tour, through its Singapore International Arts and Culture grant.