A call for equal recognition and support for all athletes

Note: This is DPA’s original letter to the Straits Times. The published piece was edited to focus only on the parity of cash rewards for medal winners. 

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) congratulates Ms Theresa Goh and Ms Yip Pin Xiu for winning both a bronze and 2 gold medals in their respective competitions at the Rio Paralympics 2016. DPA would also like to congratulate their fellow Paralympians who represented Singapore at these competitive games.

The Paralympics is undoubtedly the most successful disability sports event and many champions become positive role models for people across the world.  Lego recently launched two mini-figures in the likeness of Ms Goh and Ms Yip to celebrate the duo’s achievements at Rio.

With the recent ‘See the True Me’ campaign advocating for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities, DPA hopes that our society will walk the talk and accord athletes with disabilities with as much support, reward and recognition as their counterparts without disabilities.

After the London Paralympics 2012, DPA wrote a letter on 15 September 2012 “Clear the air on parity for Paralympians”  calling for clarity on the disparity in monetary rewards to Paralympians and Olympians.   We also held the view then (and that still holds true today) that perhaps the key issue was not just about the rewards and that the main focus should be how Singapore can nurture future word class athletes.  We had hoped that the performances of our Paralympians can inspire Singapore to support and produce word class athletes, with or without disabilities, of whom we all can be proud.  The operative word here being, “support”.

To be sure, all athletes with and without disabilities deserve more training support. Mr Joseph Schooling rightly deserves all the praise and reward he received after winning a gold medal at the Olympics in Rio. Yet, Ms Goh and Ms Yip are no less deserving and there should be parity in how they are rewarded.

In response to DPA’s letter, the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) replied to DPA and explained the variance in cash rewards is that the prize money comes from different donor-funded schemes and better donor awareness of the Olympics over the Paralympics. The reward for Paralympians is derived from the Athlete’s Achievement Award (AAA), while the reward for Olympians comes from the Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme (MAP).  Although the separate set-ups may explain the variance in the reward amounts it does not explain why things have to remain that way. Indeed, four years on, the reward scheme structure has not changed much. If the prize money for Olympians and Paralympians cannot be matched, then going forward the two funding schemes should be consolidated into one so that private donors fund the reward of all elite athletes.

Such a move would show that as a society, we are doing more than just talking about being an inclusive society and that we are taking real steps towards it.

Nicholas Aw


Disabled People’s Association

Report responsibly on persons with disabilities

The DPA wrote a letter to the Straits Times to highlight a few aspects of the Jem foodcourt incident that we found troubling. However the letter was not published by the editor. Thus we decided to share our letter on the blog. It was edited on 15 June 2016 to reflect the latest discussion on this issue. 

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) is saddened by the incident at Jem foodcourt where a woman berated a cleaner, Mr Png Lye Heng, who is deaf (“Caught on video: Woman rants against ‘deaf and mute’ cleaner at Jem foodcourt”; June 4, 2016).

The treatment Mr Png received was discriminatory and is telling of the mindset change needed in our society. The DPA also believes that the manager involved could have been more supportive of his staff with disabilities, rather than just trying to placate Ms Alice Fong.

We are also equally concerned by the terminology used by journalists reporting on the incident.

The terms “deaf and mute” are unacceptable and offensive, and only perpetuate misconceptions that all persons who are deaf are unable to communicate just because they are either unable or do not communicate through speech. Some can speak well and clearly, while others can communicate using sign language, and as such is not “mute”.

Based on the feedback received from the Deaf community, the most commonly accepted terms are “deaf” (total inability to hear) and “hard of hearing” (partial loss of hearing). Moreover, a person is not defined by his or her disability. Thus they should always be referred to as a person first, and by their disability second. We encourage reporters and members of the public to read DPA’s Glossary of Disability Terminology.

The DPA is also concerned by the way in which the reporters interviewed Mr Png for the article (“Deaf and mute foodcourt cleaner berated by woman intends to quit his job this month”; 6 June, 2016). To communicate with the cleaner, the reporters gave him questions written in Chinese on a piece of paper to which he gestured “yes” or “no”. The Deaf community should be given the choice of being interviewed in their chosen method of communication. Some persons who are deaf or hard of hearing may prefer to communicate via email or through a sign language interpreter, while others may prefer written communications.

In certain workplace situations such as customer service where communication is essential, employers could consider giving persons who are deaf or hard of hearing the choice of wearing a badge indicating their disability. This should be a voluntary measure in the workplace. Customers and colleagues could then adapt the way they communicate with the employee. ThaiExpress and Starbucks have adopted this approach and it seems to be working well.

The media plays an important role in influencing public opinion and attitudes; the choice of words can determine perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. Thus we urge reporters to use the appropriate terminology on disability and adjust their mindsets to look at communication in different ways and not just at the norm. We also call on the Government to implement a comprehensive anti-discriminatory law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities in the workplace.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Executive Director
Disabled People’s Association

Everyone can get involved in disability inclusion

Straits Times Forum, 9 June 2016 (print edition)

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) agrees with the points raised by Ms Peggy Chia Kwee Choo (“Be creative in raising awareness of disabilities“; Tuesday).

People with disabilities are people first, and have different abilities, talents, interests and personalities, just like everyone else.

This pertinent message is highlighted in the latest campaign, See The True Me, which is organised by the National Council of Social Service and the Tote Board-Enabling Lives Initiative, in partnership with the DPA.

We encourage members of the public to visit this website.

Public education campaigns play a vital role in raising large-scale awareness and in changing mindsets. But they alone cannot be expected to weave diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our society.

Building a culture of acceptance and understanding requires every individual at all levels – from public-sector organisations and businesses to schools – to get involved, and they can do so in many ways.

For example, public-sector organisations and businesses could encourage their staff to attend disability awareness and sensitivity training, to build their confidence in engaging with people with disabilities.

Mainstream schools could invite disability organisations to conduct awareness talks for teachers, parents and students.

And members of the public could participate in disability events such as the Purple Parade, or even start a conversation about disability with friends or families.

With the support of every individual, the DPA is confident that we can build a more inclusive Singapore.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Executive Director
Disabled People’s Association

Children can set the example for parents on inclusion

Today, 3 June 2016 (print edition)

Did we expect parents to let their precious children mix with a child who is different from them, special needs or otherwise? (“S’poreans support inclusive education but do not walk the talk: Study”; May 31)

Are we quick to criticise those who do not walk the talk? After all, keeping up and doing better is ingrained in our society. Would we have time for others?

If we cannot change parents’ mindsets, perhaps we can do better with the children who, in turn, can educate their mothers and fathers that mixing with people who are different is okay.

It is never too late, but to make Singapore a better place, we must start now.

Whitney Houston’s powerful song Greatest Love Of All sums up my thoughts on this matter: Children are our future; teach them well and let them lead the way.

Nicholas Aw
Disabled People’s Association


Disability awareness must start in schools

Today, 3 May 2016 (print edition)

I was 12 years old when I first discovered I had Tourette syndrome. At the time, I did not know the name of this condition, and I was a frightened young man. My parents thought that I was possessed, my teachers found me a nuisance, and my schoolmates even made fun of me.

I survived all that. Discovering that my condition had a name when I was 27 years old helped me understand it. Today, my parents have more or less accepted it, while others choose not to discuss it.

The world at large is not so forgiving, and I am stared at a lot. Kids snigger at me. Unkind comments are made. Sometimes it hurts, but as an adult looking towards the next half century of my life, this does not matter. What is important is that we do not let our children go through a similar experience.

What concerns me is that today, there are kids who have “invisible disabilities” such as autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or sensory integration disorder.

Do our children, parents and teachers know about these conditions, and why some children are different from others? Do we know how to explain the differences?

Everyone is different. But how are those who are especially different — using a wheelchair, making unusual noises — treated in school? Are they accepted in school? How do the parents teach their children to respond in such situations? How do the children feel about it?

My conversations with educators, doctors and parents often have one common refrain: That our mainstream education system can be a negative experience for our children with disabilities.

The approach by some schools can feel cursory, and there is no requirement for disability awareness education in schools’ curriculum.

We need the authorities to make disability awareness education in schools compulsory, and provide the schools with adequate training and resources. This is something that must be taught at a young age, if we want our children to live in a better place.

Nicholas Aw
Disabled People’s Association


Read the unedited longer version of his letter here: https://disabledpeoplesassociation.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/disability-awareness-must-start-in-schools/

Disability awareness in schools

By Nicholas Aw

I was 12 years old when I first discovered I had Tourette Syndrome. At that time there was no name to this condition and I was a frightened young man.  My parents thought I was possessed,  my teachers found me a nuisance and my schoolmates made fun of me.

I survived all that. Subsequently, I found out that my condition had a name when I was 27 years old.  That helped me to discover more about my condition. Today my parents have more or less accepted it, my teachers do not talk about it and my schoolmates generally do not speak about it but some still look at me, bewildered.

The world at large however is not so forgiving and I do get stared at, a lot.  Kids will snigger at me, sometimes unkind comments are made.

Some find me interesting and some find me amusing, others don’t care. Sometimes it hurts but as an adult looking towards the next half century of my life, it does not matter anymore.  What is important now is we must not let our children go through something similar. It’s not difficult, or is it ?

What concerns me today in particular are our kids who have what you call invisible disabilities. Who are they ? Some notable ones are ASD, ADHD, ADD, SID. These disabilities have a name and you would think that being able to put a name to it, much can be done.

Do our children know this ? Do our teachers and parents know why some children are different from others?  How do we explain the differences to the children, teachers and parents?

Everyone is different.

Some tall, some short.

Some big, some small.

Some have straight hair, some have curly hair.

Some have fair skin, some have dark skin.

The list is endless, but in addition;

Some need to use a wheelchair to get about.

Some have difficulties reading.

Some make unusual noises.

Some make unusual movements.

How are they treated in school? Are they accepted in school?  How do the parents manage their children?  How do the children feel about it?

My conversations with educators, doctors and parents often have one common denominator, that our education system can be toxic for our children with disabilities.

It is opined to be toxic because the experience of students with disabilities with school professionals and their peers can be quite negative.  Anecdotal accounts of parents are consistent with such experiences. Schools often provide a cursory approach as there is no place for compulsory education of disability awareness in the school’s curriculum.

What we need is for the authorities to make disability awareness in schools compulsory and provide the schools with adequate training and resources. Disability awareness is important and we have to start right at the beginning if we want our children to live in a better place.

Read the shortened published version of his letter here.

Nicholas Aw is the President of the Disabled People’s Association. He is a lawyer who has Tourette Syndrome. 

Complement fines with education

Straits Times Forum, 20 January 2016 (print edition)

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) welcomes the stronger penalties for drivers caught misusing handicap parking spaces (“Fines up for disabled parking misuse“; Monday).

This is a timely effort, considering the recent spate of events involving the misuse of these parking spaces (“Cab leaves no room for wheelchair user“; Jan 5). But imposing higher fines may not be enough to deter offenders and would-be offenders.

More public education needs to be carried out to explain why access to handicap parking spaces is strictly restricted to people with disabilities.

In busy areas such as shopping malls, where parking spaces are limited, some drivers may think it is acceptable to park in a handicap parking space, and they will continue to believe that, unless some effort is made to explain the need for such restrictions.

The fines should continue to be complemented with public education to help address the need to change behaviour over time.

In particular, the DPA urges private carparks, such as those in shopping centres, to educate the public and their own staff about the proper use of facilities for disabled people and the need to properly implement any penalties the management has for the misuse of those spaces.

The parking space for people with disabilities at Cluny Court is repeatedly used by people without the appropriate parking label. The carpark staff even tell drivers to park there when there are no other parking spaces available.

Such cases are not isolated to this shopping centre, but it does illustrate how poor commitment to implementing the proper use of the handicap parking spaces undercuts the point of having those spaces in the first place.

Stronger penalties help spread public awareness that such conduct is not just socially unacceptable, but is also against the law.

Yet, without proper implementation, people will continue to believe that the misuse of parking spaces for people with disabilities is something that they can easily get away with.

These reserved parking spaces are not about giving special privileges to a group of people. People with disabilities have no other choice but to park in these designated spaces, as the wider spaces are needed for them to get in and out of their cars.

This parking issue has a wider significance in Singapore’s journey towards an inclusive society.

I urge members of the public to report the misuse of these spaces to the management of carparks and follow up with them in properly penalising the misuse.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Executive Director
Disabled People’s Association


Note: DPA does not think that the term “handicap parking spaces” is appropriate terminology. (Please refer to DPA’s glossary for more information: http://www.dpa.org.sg/…/10/DPA-Disability-Glossary-FINAL.pdf) The Forum editor edited DPA’s letter and changed the terms “parking lot for persons with disabilities” and “disabled parking spaces” to “handicap parking spaces”.


Inclusion: what does it really mean for people with disabilities?

By Jorain Ng

In Singapore, the term “inclusion” gets thrown around a lot when we talk about how people with disabilities should be treated in our society. You can see this term almost everywhere, from ministerial speeches, campaign slogans to companies motto. But what does “inclusion” really mean?

Most would paint a general idea of inclusion and say something along the lines of “including people with disabilities equally and fairly in society”. But this begs the question. We all have divergent, even contesting, views on what constitute “fairness” and “equality”.

Not too long ago, I attended a focus group session for persons with disabilities to share their views and experiences on social inclusion. Our facilitator asked us to define what inclusion means in employment. We gave generic replies such as fair hiring practices and equal opportunities for career progression. “Equal pay, equal work,” I answered at one point. I wanted to drive home the point that a person with disability should be treated equitably as their colleagues in compensation, professional development and accountability.

The facilitator then brought up a hypothetical case study to provoke further discussion on this notion of “equal pay, equal work.” He asked: If an employee with a disability who comes from a lower income household is unable to meet his KPI (Key Performance Indicator), how should his employer remunerate him? Should the employer offer him a salary based on his productivity level, or the same salary given to his colleagues who are doing the same line of work but with higher productivity levels?

Much to my surprise, the other respondents supported the latter practice. They even quipped that the company could hire the man to be a “poster boy” for their Corporate Social Responsibility events.

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at their response. Didn’t they know that such employment practices only reinforced the negative stereotypes of persons with disabilities as objects of charity? How could it be an acceptable practice of inclusion?

But I wasn’t there to judge. We live a free country; everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. And mine was starkly different. “I still stand by what I said previously. Equal pay, equal work. The man should be paid according to his productivity level.”

To gain respect from a society that prides itself on being a meritocracy, it is important that persons with disabilities are treated as equals, not beneficiaries of a company’s generosity. Anything more would be an insult to his dignity, an act of tokenism which we all know to be a sad excuse for inaction, and a counterproductive measure that reinforces the charity model of disability. If a man’s salary is insufficient in supporting his livelihood, he should seek financial help from the Ministry of Social and Family Development. It is the Government’s responsibility to look after the welfare of their citizens, after all.

I’m not sure how others took to my reply, but I know it was definitely not met with overwhelming support. This is understandable. Our background and circumstances, combined with our physiological makeups, influence our perception and thought processes. What may seem like an acceptable practice to me may be unacceptable to others.

The question then is how can policymakers translate these multiple and competing views into a coherent set of inclusion policies, particularly one that seeks to protect, promote and support the rights of all persons with disabilities?

For a start, the disability community need to come together to reach a common understanding on what counts as “inclusion” in Singapore. For example, in the provision of education for students with disabilities, should special schools continue to exist?  If an employee is unable to fulfill his job responsibilities due to limitations arising from his disability, should the company pay him the same salary as offered to his co-workers? These are just some of the tough and debatable questions that need to be addressed. I’m not going to sugar-coat. It’s going to be a complicated, hair-pulling exercise, but it is something I think we all desperately need.


znewspaper (2)

Future of Us

By Jan Evans

“Imagine what Singapore could be in the future”

So reads the front page headline of “The Future Express”, a newspaper distributed at The Future of Us exhibition, the capstone event to Singapore’s SG50 year of celebration.

I attended the Opening Day on 1 December and enjoyed the various multimedia presentations which suggest ways in which Singaporeans might live, work, play, care and learn in the future.

The exhibition was wheelchair accessible but I felt that an opportunity was missed to make it more accessible to persons with disabilities other than those relating to mobility:  Closed captioning in English, Sign Language interpreters in video stream, braille signage and more tactile exhibits would have helped include people with different disabilities.

It was the Theatre of Generations which made the most impact with me. In a film projected above us we met four people from the future (2030) – Yi Xin, Joseph, Faizal and Ravina – and learned of their dreams and aspirations as they drew inspiration from their grandparents in 1965.   It wasn’t the futuristic images that stayed in my mind nor the 360 degree projection screen overhead:  It was the simple image (often front and centre screen in group shots) of Yi Xin, a designer, who also happened to be a wheelchair user.  Noone drew attention to this fact, there was no fanfare, nor was there wide acclaim of the fact that she was a professional “in spite of her disability”. It was a simple visual statement.  And more effective for its simplicity.


Photo shows Yi Xin, a designer, who also happened to be a wheelchair user.

I have attended many Disability Awareness events and conferences over the past few months. They are usually attended by people who are already interested and involved in raising Disability Awareness in Singapore : “Preaching to the converted” was a phrase used in one conference.   Many people who want to “be the change” in Singapore comment that they rarely saw people with disabilities when they were growing up or going to school.

On the way to Gardens by the Bay (the location of the exhibition), my friend and I passed through the Shoppes at Marina Bay and, as we turned the corner, found ourselves in the middle of what appeared to be a Wheelchair Rally:  We had walked into the ASEAN Para Games Welcome Event at Marina Bay Sands.  My friend commented, “I have never seen so many wheelchairs!”  “Isn’t it great!” I said.


Photo shows Barney, a purple dinosaur, at the Purple Parade 2015.

After the Purple Parade (at the end of October) there was a photo posted on FaceBook featuring one character in the parade. The caption read, “Look at our cute purple dino at ‪#‎PurpleParadeSG” .  In fact, the subject of the photo was the title character from the well loved children’s American TV series, “Barney & Friends”, which aired from 1992–2009. The series featured Barney, a purple dinosaur, who comes to life in the imagination of children and conveys educational messages through songs and dance routines. Barney’s friends included a small group of children from different ethnic backgrounds.  One of Barney’s friends was a boy called David, a wheelchair user (played by Robert Hurtekant, a wheelchair user in real life). I don’t recall any special mention of his wheelchair, he was simply – well – included.

The Future of Us exhibition calls on Singaporeans “to share their hopes and dreams for themselves, their family and the nation.”

I dream that people with disabilities are so part of the everyday visual landscape, so able to move freely from place to place, so populating and productive in the workplace that the situation is totally unnoticeable and unworthy of comment.

“Imagine what Singapore could be in the future”?

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that these dreams will become a reality in the very near future …

And that they do not only “come to life” – like Barney the Purple Dinosaur – merely in the imagination of the naive.

The Future of Us Exhibition is on until 8 March 2016.  Tickets are available for various time slots and are free – see http://www.thefutureofus.sg/

Jan Evans is a volunteer at the Disabled People’s Association. She joined the team last year 2014 and has contributed to DPA’s research and publications. 

What It Should Have Been: Edition #6

By Jorain Ng

I can’t believe this but we’re now into Round Six of DPA’s public education initiative on proper terminology to describe persons with disabilities. Let’s hope this segment will end by the tenth edition. (For first-time readers, find out more here.)


Channel News Asia, 10 August 2015
Abuse cases involving disabled go largely unreported: Social workers

The entire article, including the headline, contain words like disabled or disabled people.

The more appropriate term is people with disabilities.

It is only respectful to refer to people with disabilities as individuals first.

SG Enable says: People with disabilities are individuals first. Their disabling condition or conditions are only one part of who they are. So as far as possible, refer to the person first, then the disability.


Channel News Asia, 24 August 2015
Minds students do their bit for society

The visit is part of a Minds push to get its students and beneficiaries – from Minds homes, and employment and training centres – to contribute to society, and also to integrate and socialise with able-bodied volunteers through school or corporate pairings.

The visit is part of a Minds push to get its students and beneficiaries – from Minds homes, and employment and training centres – to contribute to society, and also to integrate and socialise with volunteers without disabilities through school or corporate pairings.

The opposite of “people with disabilities” is not “able-bodied” or “abled”. These terms suggest that people with disabilities are not “able”.


Straits Times, 17 September 2015
Inclusive gym that caters for folk with disabilities

The entire article uses terms such as deaf and blind people, able-bodied friends, and visually handicapped.

The more appropriate terms are people with a visual disability, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, friends without disabilities, and people with a visual disability. 

As above, please use people-first language to refer to people with disabilities respectfully and appropriately, and avoid using terms like “able-bodied” to refer to people who do not have a disability. The term “handicapped” is also an outdated or offensive term because it implies that persons with disabilities have an imposed disadvantage.


Straits Times, 28 September 2015
Rules on parking labels for disabled set to be tightened

The entire article, including the headline, is peppered by words such as the disabled, able-bodied, disabled drivers, disabled passengers.

The more appropriate terms are people with disabilities, people without disabilities, drivers with disabilities and passengers with disabilities.

Again, people with disabilities are individuals first. So please refer to them as such.


Here are more examples of incorrect terminologies found in Singapore’s local newspapers: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4 and Part 5. But local newspapers are not the only ones I found using inappropriate terminologies. I’ve caught international news channel like BBC News using words like “wheelchair bound” and “disabled person”. Take, for example, the following news articles by BBC News:

BBC News, 19 October 2015
Model role for teenager with spinal disorder

She underwent a six-hour operation to prevent the condition from making her wheelchair-bound.

She underwent a six-hour operation to prevent the condition from making her non-ambulant.

This error has appeared in examples in previous columns so far, and has been explained too.  Avoid terms such as “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”. Rather, say that a person “uses a wheelchair” or a “wheelchair user”. But since the article is describing how a model underwent an operation to treat her severe spinal disorder so that she can continue to walk, the term “non-ambulant” would be more appropriate.


BBC News, 6 October 2015
Has America already had a female president?

As well as tending to her wheelchair-bound husband and campaigning on his behalf, Eleanor also pursued her own interests.

As well as tending to her wheelchair-user husband and campaigning on his behalf, Eleanor also pursued her own interests.

As above.

DPA emailed the editors at BCC News regarding this article and  received a reply from them stating that their writers follow a set of guidelines dealing specifically with how to respectfully address persons with disabilities. While it is puzzling how those terms make it through the editing process, DPA was glad that the editors have admitted their mistake, sharing with us their house style and amending the article.