By Jorain Ng
Happy New Year!
As we bid farewell to 2014, I wish to highlight and review the key milestones in Singapore’s disability landscape for those who happened to miss it, and to provide a general overview of how far Singapore has come in making the society more inclusive for persons with disabilities.
New Open Door Programme
On 24 April, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) introduced a new Open Door Programme (ODP) aimed at incentivising and thereby enhancing the employment of persons with disabilities.
Under this scheme, Singapore-based or registered companies can apply for funding support to hire, train and integrate persons with disabilities such as job re-design and workplace accommodation. Companies can apply for funding for both new and existing workers with disabilities. The funding cap of $100,000 per company has also been lifted.
For those interested in ODP or wish to apply for ODP, please click here.
My concern is that few companies are aware of and therefore not tapping into this scheme. My organisation, the Disabled People’s Association (DPA), have been receiving calls from various companies asking about the available schemes for workers with disabilities. Most of them were not even aware of ODP.
Integrated Community Space
On 3 July, SG Enable, a government-established agency dedicated to enhancing the lives of persons with disabilities, announced plans for an integrated community space for persons with disabilities.
The space will include an information centre, a career centre offering job placement and support, facilities for courses and on-the-job training, as well as a “mentoring space” for workers with disabilities to mentor students with disabilities.
It is expected to be completed by the second half of 2015.
Transport Concession Scheme
On 6 July, the Ministry of Transport made public transport more affordable for persons with disabilities by introducing the Public Transport Concession Scheme.
Under this scheme, persons with disabilities can enjoy 25 per cent adult fare discount for travel on public transport. They also have the option of buying a monthly pass for $60.
For those who wish to learn more about the concession scheme or wish to apply for the card, please click here.
$30 Million Enabling Lives Initiative
On 26 October, the Singapore government announced a $30 million “Tote Board-Enabling Lives Initiative” aimed at improving the quality of life and well-being of persons with disabilities and their caregivers.
Tote Board will work with SG Enable and National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to deliver this initiative. NCSS will lead the $4 million education drive, while SG Enable will administer the remaining $26 million funding for projects like technology aids and caregiver support.
The money will be available to groups such as voluntary welfare organisations, research institutions and social enterprises.
The initiative will commence on January 2015.
Learn more about the initiative here.
School-To-Work Transition Programme
On 12 November, five Special Education (SPED) schools started a new school-to-work transition programme. The five participating SPED schools are Pathlight School, APSN Delta Senior School, Grace Orchard School, Metta School and Minds Woodlands Gardens School.
Co-developed by the Ministry of Education, MSF and SG Enable, this programme aims to provide greater support for SPED graduates moving on to the workplace.
Under the prototype, SPED schools identify students who have the potential to work and refer them to SG Enable in the final year of school to identify post-school employment or training opportunities. The students will also receive customised job training and continued support from a job coach at their workplace.
Open Door Job Portal
On 22 November, SG Enable introduced a new Open Door Job Portal for persons with disabilities looking for employment and for employers to post jobs. With this new site, job search is made easy for persons with disabilities.
Click here to view the site.
My criticism with this site concerns the types of jobs available. A quick glance over the list will reveal that most are low-skilled jobs such as a waitress/waiter, cleaner, dishwasher and administrative assistant.
While it is heartening to see that employers are willing to hire persons with disabilities, a big step towards reducing stigma to be sure, it is disappointing to know that some of these very same employers have biased assumptions of the capabilities of persons with disabilities.
Granted, a waitress, administrative assistant and cleaner etc. are still jobs that pay, no matter how meager the salary. They provide persons with disabilities a means by which to live their lives independently.
But persons with disabilities should not be restricted to these low-skilled jobs. The Open Door Job Portal should advertise a range of jobs from high-end to low-end ones so that persons with disabilities can choose according to their qualifications and personal preferences, and so have a chance at better utilising their abilities and maximising their potential.
Purple Parade 2014
On 15 November, Singapore held a movement that supports inclusion and celebrates the abilities of persons with disabilities. The Parade featured performances, carnival booths, and raised funds by selling food, beverages, merchandise and handicrafts.
Held at Hong Lim Park, a massive crowd of 5,000 from diverse backgrounds, sectors and professions came decked out in purple. Among them were Government ministers Mr Teo Ser Luck, Ms Sim Ann and Mr Lawrence Wong, and Nominated Member of Parliament (MP) Ms Chia Yong Yong and MP Ms Denise Phua. Veteran local actor Mr Chew Chor Meng was also present for the event.
Government agencies, mainstream schools, corporate volunteer groups, Special Education schools and various voluntary welfare organisations also joined in the celebration as parade contingents. While members of the public showed their support by patronising carnival booths.
Learn more about the event here.
Progressive roll-out of WAB services
For the entire year 2014, SBS Transit has been rolling out new wheelchair-accessible bus (WAB) services. The latest of which was on 3 December when SBS Transit rolled out six new WAB services.
The six services are service number 9, 91, 103, 115, CT8 and CT18. This brings the total number of WAB services to 183, making 89% of all SBS buses wheelchair friendly.
For more information about wheelchair-accessible bus services, please click here.
The continued roll out of WAB services is greatly appreciated, but quality is equally if not more important. DPA has received feedback from our members that the attitude of some of these WAB bus captains is somewhat lacking. Bus captains must receive continuous sensitivity training to provide quality service to persons with disabilities.
New Preschool to integrate Children with and without Disabilities
On 2 December, a new preschool in Redhill was announced to be taking in mainstream children and children with special needs. Set up by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation and voluntary welfare group Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA), this Redhill preschool is the first in Singapore to work on the concept of integrating these two groups of children together.
It will be staffed by qualified degree-holding teachers, on top of an early childhood diploma. The preschool will also employ a speech therapist and an occupational therapist.
The pre-school will take in 75 pupils, with 30 per cent of spaces allocated to children with special needs. It will start with an intake of about 30 pupils, but is expected to reach full enrolment by January 2016.
Home-based care services
On 3 December, MSF launched a two-year pilot scheme for people aged 16 and above with physical or intellectual disability as well as mild autism. The aim of this initiative is to help persons with disabilities remain integrated in the community and to support their caregivers.
Under the scheme, service providers make house calls to provide therapy, personal hygiene care, housekeeping and medication reminder services. The services will be provided by the Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA) and the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS). And the Government will subside up to 80 per cent of the cost for needy families.
For more information about the scheme, please click here.
This is a well-meaning venture but an inadequate one nonetheless.
According to SG Enable, persons with disabilities who are currently receiving centre-based care services are not eligible for the scheme. This is done to avoid double-funding.
This exemption is completely understandable if home-based services and centre-based services are one in the same, where clients can receive the same kinds of services but at different settings.
But this may not be the case for all. For example, the personal hygiene service provided by the home-based service may not be offered at a day activity centre – a place where the client learn socialising skills by interacting and playing with others. BOTH are necessary and beneficial to the client, so why should they only be allowed access to one?
Singapore has certainly come a long way in enabling the lives of persons with disabilities and making society inclusive and barrier-free.
I applaud the various government agencies and their collaborative partners for their efforts but more can be done. This new year, 2015, will be the time for them to review their pilot programmes and schemes, and incorporate feedback and insights from their clients for fine tuning. I look forward to the development of these initiatives.
What do you think about these schemes, events and projects?