Law needed to protect rights of disabled people

Straits Times Forum, 27 July, 2013 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) welcomes the Government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and we look forward to its fulfilment.

We also support Maruah president Braema Mathi’s views (“Further ways to ensure equality for disabled people”; Wednesday).

In certain cases, election officers might lack the necessary skills to communicate with disabled voters, for example, those with multiple disabilities such as the deaf-blind.

Those with both physical and intellectual disability or autism might also not be comfortable with, or refuse to interact with, a stranger (the election officer).

Are there measures in place to ensure election officers are able to properly assist voters with special needs? If not, we are concerned that allowing only election officers to help disabled people vote will, in some cases, result in them being effectively deprived of their vote or less likely to vote.

The DPA also calls on the Government to implement a comprehensive anti-discriminatory law to protect the rights of people with disabilities, as the current legislative framework is somewhat lacking.

For instance, the use of guide dogs for the blind is governed by the Environmental Public Health Act and Rapid Transit Systems Act, and supported by a Ministry of Social and Family Development statement.

These lack bite because there are no penalties for violators. As a result, time and again, we see media reports on people with guide dogs being turned away, without justification, from places they are legally allowed to access.

There is also an economic case for such legislation. Comprehensive disability laws in the United States (Americans With Disabilities Act), Britain (Equality Act), Australia (Disability Discrimination Act) and Japan (Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons) have not led to corporations and businesses fleeing these countries en masse.

Instead, these laws have strengthened the countries’ reputations as they are seen to care for, value and respect the rights of their resident workers.

To attract and retain top talent, we recommend that Singapore do no less.

Lastly, the DPA realises that doing the above would not automatically lead to the complete resolution of the issue of discrimination against disabled people, but it would certainly be a significant step towards our aspiration of being an inclusive and just society.

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

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