[Special feature] Ken Chua, Founder of (these)abilities — Designing Change
Ken Chua is social entrepreneur who graduated from the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He designs technologies and systems to promote a society inclusive to persons-with-disabilities.
25-year-old Ken Chua, designer and engineer from the pioneer batch of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), has been active in the disability community for the past 7 years. He has worn many hats as a volunteer, friend, Assistive Technology researcher and now solutions provider, overall catalyst for systems change.
“these(abilities) uses disability as a source of innovation in the technology and design space, as well as community and creative capacity building,” said the founder. It brings together Persons with Disabilities, occupational therapists, caregivers, designers, engineers, assistive technology specialists, Volunteer Welfare Organisations and related government agencies under one roof.
His began his journey into the space as a teaching assistant at the Cerebral Palsy Association of Singapore when he was in junior college. “This lack of inclusion, empathy and general thought for Persons with Disabilities isn’t something that society should take as the status quo,” said the diligent entrepreneur, who later went to SUTD in order to acquire the design skills he needed to serve persons with disabilities. “We could do more, and we should do more.”
“I found it to be a design problem,” he told the The Straits Times.
“People are born differently abled, not disabled, but because society has minimal inclusion for such people, it renders them disabled.”
“I felt it was social injustice.”
Doing Justice Through Good Design
Like a true entrepreneur, Ken chooses to meet problems with solutions, not complaints. He designs items to help persons with disabilities, including an affordable keyguard for persons with upper-limb mobility issues. He also re-designs existing systems so persons with disabilities can actively participate in them. Through Grab Lab sessions, (these)abilities collected suggestions to improve and prototype Grab’s mobile app to make its “ride-hailing” experience more accessible to deaf and visually-impaired users. Committed to his cause, he chooses to take respond to problems in his immediate environment. “You don’t have to go out of your way to create social impact when it can be done in your own backyard,” he said.
He also wields his influence to catalyse greater social impact, through collaboration. “For corporates, funds meant for Social Impact need not be gone once donated! There can be Returns on Investments (ROIs) with a double-bottom line!”. These can be created through increased corporate-social entrepreneur partnerships.
For (these)abilities’ consistent efforts, they received the Best Tech Social Enterprise of the Year 2016 in the ASEAN region at the Rice Bowl ASEAN Startup Awards 2016 in Manila.
Advice to students who want to start up
Ken advises aspiring student entrepreneurs to take advantage of their youth, and the relative safety of the school environment, to validate their solutions as much as they can. “Don’t be hesitant,” he encourages, “Invest that energy to try out new things.”
“Understand the concept of empathy… understand things from a different person’s perspective, rather than a moral high ground.”
A good place to start? Contact (these)abilities to see how you can be part of the efforts to pursue this journey of “Disabling Disabilities”.
How you can help…
“Students / the public can get started by getting in touch with us, so that we can see which of our many efforts they can participate in to get them started on this journey in the Disability / Design / Tech / Entrepreneurship space.
“We are integrating a volunteer management framework now, so we match volunteers to projects based on their objectives of volunteering as well (i.e. learning a new skill, plying their trade, making new friends, exploring something new, etc.).”
Follow (these)abilities online…
Ready to develop your social enterprise idea?
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One such programme is the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia — take part and stand a chance to grow your innovative, scalable solution with sustainable impact.
Read more about the NUS Enterprise Startup Runway here.
More information at the Social Venture Lab @ NUS is available on our website.