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.
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.
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.