When Noraini Adnan was a child, she wanted to walk, run and do everything that she saw other children do. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 8 months old, the 45-year-old has come into her own through public speaking about her disability to audiences from diverse backgrounds, under the umbrella of the Disabled People’s Association (DPA).
Currently working part-time at a local social enterprise, Noraini deals with many misconceptions about her abilities and limitations. Her passion is advocating for an inclusive society by speaking candidly about her disability and the barriers that face people with disabilities in Singapore over the years.
She speaks of her recent participation in Human Library Singapore with pride, where she was a ‘book’ at two events this year. The volunteer-run initiative originating from Denmark provides a space for dialogue with people from marginalised backgrounds to reduce stigma and create understanding. Readers can ‘borrow’ human ‘books’, read their stories and challenge their preconceptions.
“I managed to talk about inclusion in society for people that I didn’t know. It’s like a dream.”
It took Noraini a long time to embrace her disability. Growing up, her parents hid her disability from her as a way of dealing with their own sorrow and disappointment. Nevertheless, they sent her to physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy at Singapore General Hospital and after that, an early intervention programme at the Spastic Children’s Association Singapore (now Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore).
“Whenever I asked [my parents] why I could not walk like my cousins, why I couldn't sit without support, the answer was always that after my first surgery, I would be able to walk and run. I was too young to understand cerebral palsy.”
She underwent surgeries on her hips, knees and ankles during her pre-school and primary school years. Despite several painful months of recovery for each of the surgeries, Noraini could still move independently with the aid of calipers and special shoes. However, after her final surgery, she constantly fell over and eventually need to use a wheelchair to get around.
Turning Point and Acceptance
This was a turning point in Noraini’s relationship with her parents, who had promised her that she would be able to walk after her third surgery. “I cried out for the first time to them. That's when my parents told me that I was born with cerebral palsy. It took me months to accept it.”
After having to stop school because of the onset of muscle spasms, Noraini took up different courses at Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), where she made friends and gradually gained more confidence in moving about independently. This helped her make her decision to move to a residential home some 11 years ago, after a family rearrangement. While it took her five years to adjust, Noraini began to appreciate the positive aspects of living on her own.
“I really needed to adjust myself. I find that this home suits me and encourages me to work. Students come for interaction,” she said, having recently spoken to group of students from United World College.
Road to Independence
When MRTs and buses were made accessible in the early 2000s, Noraini pushed herself to be independent as she wanted to “see the world”.
“As an active member of DPA, I started to socialise and motivate myself. After taking an Inclusive Diversity course three years ago, I know my way around shopping centres better. For buses, I won’t get lost now. I can ask for information at the control station.”
Thinking back to her childhood, Noraini wants parents of children with disabilities to treat their child “as normally as possible”.
“Our government and other organisations will help them with early intervention and school. And a lot of facilities are accessible now.”
“I never gave up hope.”
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