When witnessing prejudice against his brother, David Wang didn’t get lost in frustration. Instead, he searched for the root of the problem.
By Sarah Fox
On a family trip to China in 2010, David Wang brought his younger brother, Edward, to the mall. This outing was nothing out of the ordinary for the two, but during this instance, David noticed some negative attention. From what he could gauge, it seemed a child with disabilities was a rare—even unwelcomed—sight in their new country of travel.
Back in Canada, in the greater Vancouver area where his family resides, David started thinking about this reaction and the possible reasoning behind it. His pondering led him to think back to his experience with other children with disabilities, specifically the way their families tended to protect them from the outside world.
From an early age, David was interested in meeting other kids like his brother Edward, who is diagnosed with developmental delays. As children, he didn’t notice any difference between he and his brother, but when visiting with other families, he found parents treated their children, who had similar developmental conditions as Edward, differently—sheltering them out of love, according to David. “Parents really hid their children behind the scenes. They didn’t go outside [in order] to protect the child.” The rationale behind this behaviour was understandable, but David knew—from his own family experience—these habits could hinder a child’s growth and development.
In his brother Edward’s case, every opportunity to act independently was seized as a chance to strengthen life skills. David recalls helping Edward practice using scissors by cutting a piece of paper over and over again, until he was comfortable enough doing it on his own. Exercises like this, as David suggests, led to Edward developing “faster than a lot of other kids in his peer group.”
And, if there were ever things Edward couldn’t do in the traditional sense, the Wang family found creative ways around it. For example, communication: “My brother, at a young age, couldn’t really speak, but he would always sing,” David shares. “He would hum everything and connect with people through singing.”
Inspired by his brother’s affinity for music, when David dove deeper into his passion for empowering children with disabilities, he turned to music as a universal medium for communication.
In October of 2010, not long after his family’s trip to China, David founded the Social Diversity for Children Foundation (SDC). The charity has a dual focus, according to its founder. First, it looks at empowering children with disabilities through social learning programs, such as music therapy. With this, comes the second part of the foundation’s objective, which is to give youth the opportunity to take a lead role in raising awareness by going “out into their communities and combating stigma against children with disabilities,” as David explains. Together, the efforts culminate in a movement that works towards empowering young people of all abilities.
As with everything, big change starts with awareness. For David, this meant going back to the place that first shone on a light on the extent of stigma around people with disabilities: China.
His work here began with conversations. He met with locals and asked them about people with disabilities in their own community. His questions were met with a common response, “We don’t have children with disabilities here.” As he would learn, the stigma surrounding disabilities was so embedded, it forced parents to enroll their children in separate schools—often far outside their communities. “In Asia, [these] schools are completely separate,” David indicates. “I noticed that because the kids were more isolated, [they] were developing even slower than children here [in Canada].”
Seven trips to China later, David is seeing awareness and acceptance improve in the regions the SDC has touched, including Jiangsu, Guizhou and Yunnan. Today, schools are incorporating innovative social learning techniques, such as music and other artistic therapies, into the curriculum, while making a conscious effort to bring children with disabilities into public spaces previously avoided.
With programs running in Greater Vancouver, the U.S. and China, the SDC has allowed David—now 22—to change society’s perception of people with disabilities on an international scale, while providing fresh programming for youth like his brother. Events like WE Day help. This past fall, David stepped up on stage and addressed an audience of change-makers in Vancouver—that means more people to spread his message and more people to encourage action.
David and his brother are an unbeatable team, making changes that press community members towards confronting the stigma they once fostered. As the impact takes root, David dreams of expanding the SDC to facilitate the same growth in more countries around the world, spreading his message of inclusivity and empowerment: “All kids, no matter what they’re abilities, can do anything… as long as we can find the correct materials and correct way to teach them.”