More Needs To Be Done to Fully Integrate the Disabled

Singapore News // Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Are we able to help the disabled?

Ow Chee Chung

AT THE opening of the Cerebral Palsy Centre in 2004, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a call

for Singapore to be a more inclusive society.Four years
on, and as we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities today, let us take stock

of the progress in making Singapore an inclusive society

in terms of educational, leisure, social, sports and employment opportunities for people with

disabilities.Despite efforts to avail early intervention
programmes to children with developmental challenges, there remains considerable concern on the

outcome and quality of services provided, especially to
children in greater need of intervention through speech and occupational therapies.

Many families are also worried that the eventual roll-out of the means
testing framework for early intervention programmes would adversely affect the subsidies given to

them.

A child who is unable to attend any national primary
school due to any physicalor intellectual disability is exempt from compulsory schooling. The

exemption is a double-edged sword. It “accommodates” the special-needs
child by relieving parents from the statutory duty to school their children, but at the same

time, provides an excuse for children with physical disabilities
not to be schooled.

Overall, we see an increased involvement by the Ministry of Education in special schools and in

inclusion programmes in mainstream schools.

However, our anecdotal experience working with children with disabilities in mainstream schools

shows that there is still much room for improvement in
their participation and inclusion.

There is a great need for the Government to implement more support programmes, to educate the

educators and parents and
to enhance the inclusion programmes.

People with disabilities should be gainfully employed. Central statistics are not available on

the number of people with disabilities working in open employment, but statistics available from

special schools and workshop programmes suggest that not many are gainfully
employed.

There is now new emphasis on vocational training, financial support for job redesigning, as well

as job placement and support. Unfortunately,
the current ecosystem may have maxed-out its deliverables and it is questionable if additional

elements will be able to give the desired impact.

A recent recruitment effort targeted at people with disabilities showed that there were jobs

available but these could not be matched to disabled people. This certainly
calls for a major change to the ecosystem of vocational training and employment of people with

disabilities.

Firstly, there must be a sharper and more precise
classification of a disabled person’s potential, the purpose of vocational programmes, the flow

of intervention strategies and overall outcomes.

Secondly,
leadership at the highest and central level must drive and co-ordinate these vocational and work

rehabilitation programmes to ensure a more efficient and
effective transition from the disabled workers’ perspective.

Public transport accessibility and web accessibility are two other major obstacles to a more
inclusive society. Inaccessible public transport makes working uneconomical for people with

disabilities (let alone for other social activities). Transport
fares by taxi can wipe out more than 70 per cent of one’s income: There is little incentive to

work.

The introduction of wheelchair-accessible public buses
is certainly most welcome. However, it will take some time before the transport system can reach

a certain level of efficiency and effectiveness for people
with disabilities. Meanwhile, there is an urgent need for the Government to review the current

support for public transport; the current financial assistance
and service are certainly inadequate. It is also unfortunate that our IT masterplan does not

document any specific strategy towards web accessibility. The
Government should take the lead by having a definitee-government strategy on web accessibility.

Unlike most countries that adopt the affirmative action
approach of implementing disability acts, Singapore has carried out its own inclusive journey via

a many-helping-hands approach.It is evident that such
an approach can only achieve a certain level of efficiency and effectiveness. There is an urgent

need for the Government to co-ordinate and direct efforts,
especially in the areas of early intervention programmes, education, work rehabilitation and

accessibility infrastructure projects for the disabled community.Singapore
is more inclusive today than in the ’60s. Mindsets have slowly shifted, and efforts are being

made to accommodate special needs. Still, physical, social
and mental barriers exist today.

To be a part of a community, one should be able to move about without obstacles, use public

facilities and amenities without
hindrances, and be actively involved in social activities.

The goal of International Day of Personswith Disabilities is full and equal enjoyment of human
rights and participation in society by persons with disabilities.

We hope that day will come soon.

The writer is executive director of theSociety for the
Physically Disabled.

Reproduced from http://www.todayonline.com/articles/290441.asp