UWCSEA alumnus driving change - Richard Kuppusamy '95
By Brenda Whately, Director of Alumni Relations
Singapore architect, Richard Kuppusamy '95 designs with the needs of all people integrated into his designs.
Richard spent seven years from the age of 11 at UWCSEA. After moving and living in several different countries with his family in his early years, Richard said, “At UWCSEA, I finally felt like a regular kid. I had a regular group of long-term friends, and I felt a real sense of belonging.”
Leading up to graduation, Richard decided to pursue a degree in architecture. He said, “I worked out that I was good with my hands, a practical person, I like to solve problems, be resourceful, I’m a tech geek and I wanted to put all of these things together.” After an internship to see what the job would be like, he decided that architecture was for him.
After seven years training and 11 years working as an architect in the UK, he decided to return home to Singapore in 2012 to be closer to his family. Coming back to Singapore was a big decision for Richard who has, since the age of 24 used a wheelchair due to spina bifida, a congenital condition affecting the spinal cord. Singapore has come a long way in providing accessibility for people with disabilities over the past few years, but “it still has a long way to go.”
Before choosing the company he would work for, some of the key questions he asked were about the ability to enter through the front door as a wheelchair user and the availability of wheelchair accessible toilets. The firm who hired him was willing to make both of these items a non-issue for him. As senior architectural designer there, Richard “acted as a mentor and advisor within the office to teach less experienced staff on how to integrate the needs of disabled people into our designs." He said, "We tried to teach our staff and our clients not just the technical requirements that result in accessible buildings, but instead how disabled people use buildings and why the technical regulations are the way they are. In order to design well, we need to understand the people who use our buildings.” Describing his personal goal, Richard said, “To feel that I am making a positive social impact on others with everything I do.”
He still gets frustrated with people who unthinkingly or sometimes purposely use handicap parking spots and toilet stalls. He said, “The biggest barrier to accessibility is attitude.” He further noted: “Most building owners don’t take the needs of disabled people seriously because they feel there aren’t enough disabled people to matter. Those building owners aren’t doing enough to make their premises accessible, to help disabled people to get out of their homes and into the shopping mall or cinema.”
This is something that Richard is passionate about turning around. His designs have aimed “to create something that is universally designed for young and old, for able-bodied and disabled people; every public place fully accessible with equality.” Two of the projects he has worked on in Singapore include the Enabling Village at Redhill and Kampung Admiralty (named World Building of the Year 2018 at the World Architecture Festival), both of which champion universal design.
Richard currently works as Regional Digital Integration Manager of a leading international property group, Lendlease. He is responsible for implementing digital technology and processes innovation in design and construction. In his spare time he volunteers in the Digital Built Environment Institute, a non-profit institution dedicated to improving digital workflows and modernisation in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry through continuing education.
In addition to his professional roles, Richard volunteers his time with the HWA (Handicaps Welfare Association) and is the President of the DPA (Disabled People’s Association). At the HWA, which is an organisation “for disabled people, by disabled people", he leverages his professional experience to provide management oversight for the association which serves to enhance the quality of life of people with physical disabilities. At the DPA he advocates on behalf of persons with disabilities to influence decision-makers to implement policies and programmes aimed at promoting civil rights, equality, and social integration for people with disabilities.
Also the captain and team manager of the Singapore Wheelchair Rugby team, Richard said, “I joined Singapore Wheelchair Rugby with the intent of just coming for a bit of fun and exercise. We were given an opportunity to play in an international tournament soon after forming the team and I took on a role as the team captain. We have a fantastic group of about 12 players of various disabilities. Wheelchair Rugby gives us an activity which is both social and active. I guess this is the real ‘words to action’ when we talk about building an inclusive society. Wheelchair Rugby lets disabled people prove that their disability does not hold them back. It smashes stereotypes of disabled people in wheelchairs being frail and weak. In fact, the sport empowers disabled people to become active and do things they might not imagine they could do. Given the right environment, disabled people can excel in sport, have a social life, keep fit, and have fun. It’s a win-win.”
Richard’s inspirational philosophy on life is thus: “If you want to complain that life can be better; that you have the right to better treatment; then I believe you have to be willing to fight for those rights and lead by example. I’ve had a lot of good fortune in life, I’ve made my own opportunities where I can, and I have a duty like everyone else to give a little something back. I realised very early on that if I want change, I need to be the one driving that change.”
What is your alumni story? Our UWCSEA alumni are an amazing global community who remain connected to our UWC mission throughout their lives. Maintaining connections is a cornerstone in strengthening the bonds of our united UWCSEA community. Check out our series of alumni profiles here. If you have a story about yourself or another you'd like to share, reach out to us at email@example.com.