Two friends hope to set up Singapore's first disabled-friendly gym

Mr Ryan Ng (standing) and Ms Debra Lam (right) with the Deaf Dragons - a dragon boat team comprising hearing-impaired members that was set up in 2012 by the duo. They are currently working on a project to establish a gym that would cater for disabled
Mr Ryan Ng (standing) and Ms Debra Lam (right) with the Deaf Dragons - a dragon boat team comprising hearing-impaired members that was set up in 2012 by the duo. They are currently working on a project to establish a gym that would cater for disabled people who want a place to work out.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Singapore could be about to get its first disabled-friendly gym.

Planned features include having enough space between machines for wheelchair users to move around, tactile indicators for the blind, and staff who know sign language.

The two friends behind the idea - part-time marketing executive Debra Lam, 21, and full-time national serviceman Ryan Ng, 23 - are conducting market research on the idea after hearing about the inconveniences disabled people face when trying to keep fit.

Ms Lam told The Straits Times: "We know from some team members at Deaf Dragons that they find it difficult when using gym equipment for the first time because people can't understand them when they need help."

Deaf Dragons is a dragon boat team comprising hearing-impaired members.

It was set up in 2012 by Ms Lam, who has two brothers with autism, and Mr Ng, who has an intellectually challenged brother.

"We've gone to a few other gyms and sometimes the machines are quite close together, with hardly any space for wheelchair users to move around," Ms Lam said.

"Some toilet cubicles near the gyms are also narrow, and the doors to gyms are usually the push-pull type which are not disabled-friendly." She has even heard of disabled people being denied access to gyms.

The gym is not meant to be exclusively for the disabled, but one that "provides a platform where people with and without disabilities can exercise comfortably together", she said.

"Acceptance will take place only through constant interaction and understanding, eventually transforming Singapore into a more inclusive society."

Connecting the disabled with the wider community through fitness is also the main aim of Society Staples, a social enterprise founded by Ms Lam and Mr Ng last year.

The gym is its main project to date. While it is not clear when it will be ready - as this depends on when they can raise enough funds and secure a suitable location - it could be set up within three months with about $200,000, said Ms Lam.

The Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) welcomes the idea. "The idea is great in promoting a more inclusive society and bringing sporting opportunities to the disabled," said a spokesman.

Currently, the SDSC does not have a gym catering specifically for the disabled. As a charity, it has limited resources and focuses more on organising sports activities, it said.

Society Staples is conducting an online survey on its plans for the gym.

It will also hold a "Strongman" event, in which those with or without disabilities can take part in activities such as pulling heavy tyres and lifting rice sacks.

This is to assess how comfortable and interested both groups are in exercising together. The event has received funding of $3,000 from Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC).

There are no plans yet for financial support for the gym, but the CDC said it is open to discussions with Society Staples.

Mayor Denise Phua, who oversees the CDC and is president of the Autism Resource Centre, said: "People with special needs are integral members of our country and deserve equal access to all aspects of daily living."

The Strongman event will be held on Saturday at Hong Lim Park, from 9.15am to 1pm.

Those interested can sign up at bit.ly/strongmansession

The online survey is at bit.ly/sginclusivegym

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg