Law, Legislation and Politics

Life After Death

As they say, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. However, the bigger issue for many of us would be ensuring that our dependents are well cared for after our passing.

This was the crux of the presentation organised by Clifford Law on 5th of May. DPA’s President, Mr Nicholas Aw, who led the session on Estate Planning saw a turnout of about 250 parents and caretakers who were interested in learning more about caring for, and ensuring adequate financial support for their children with special needs upon their passing.

Nicholas took parents through the variety of options available in Singapore, as well as answered questions about various extenuating circumstances.

Below are some common questions that were raised during the session:

  1. When certifying an individual’s mental capacity, what type of doctor should the parents bring their child to?

A family GP would be best as they are most familiar with the child. However, parents are advised to use their discretion when selecting a doctor to certify their child.

  1. How and when does the Appropriate Adult Scheme (AAS) come into effect?

When a person certified as having a psychosocial and intellectual disability commits a crime, the arresting police officer will contact the AAS in order to have a representative accompany the arrested individual through their interrogation. However, parents should note that the police will only be prompted to contact the AAS if they realise that the person they have arrested has a psychosocial and intellectual disability.

  1. How does a person alert the police that they are under the AAS?

It is generally left up to the arresting officer’s discretion. Additionally, AAS does provide an identifying card to the individual with a psychosocial and intellectual disability. This card can be shown to the officer, or it might be discovered by an inspecting officer when the individual surrenders his personal belongings.

 

You can download a copy of the slides used in the presentation here: ESTATE PLANNING SLIDES 

Please note that all information provided in the slides are personal opinions and should not be held as fact. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify their own facts.

If you have any questions on estate planning, or the Appropriate Adult Scheme (AAS), please get in touch with us by emailing info@dpa.org.sg.

 

Image shows a yellow ballot box in between two people. One person in red has a speech bubble at the top of his head with a term 'Disability Support?". Another figure also has a speech bubble at the top of his head with the sentence, 'What about disability inclusion?'.

General Elections 2015: What’s in it for people with disabilities?

By Jorain Ng

As a first time voter, a disability advocate and a person with disability, I have taken a huge interest in hearing where the incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP) and opposition parties stand on disability-specific issues.

Disappointingly, not much has been said about persons with disabilities in their manifestos and at their political rallies. Yet this does not mean the disability community is forgotten, neglected or ignored by the incumbent and contesting parties. I can spot at least three areas where the parties have proposed policies that indirectly cater to the needs of persons with disabilities.

Healthcare 

In their manifesto, the PAP promised affordable and high quality healthcare to every Singaporean. They gave a brief outline of how they intend to achieve this goal such as increasing support for caregivers, boosting primary care and providing universal coverage through MediShield Life.

I believe the Government is referring to the Foreign Domestic Worker Levy Concession for Persons with Disabilities and Caregivers Training Grant when they talk about increasing caregiver support. I could be wrong. In any case, I’d like to hear a more concrete and detailed PAP proposal to enhance the quality and affordability of healthcare, rather than just in passing.

In contrast, the Workers’ Party (WP) proposed a set of comprehensive policies to improve healthcare affordability. For instance, when talking about enhancing primary care subsidies, the WP suggested that the monthly household income cap to qualify for subsidies for primary care to be raised to the median monthly household income per member. They also have a detailed plan to support full-time informal caregivers such as giving them yearly CPF top-ups and flexible work arrangements.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has a different solution to help Singaporeans from low to middle income households receive medical treatment. They called for a universal health-care system that pays for all health-care expenses through a single pool of funds, which is contributed by all Singaporeans and the Government.

If adopted, I have no doubt that this system will enable all Singaporean with disabilities from low to middle income households to receive proper medical treatment. But I think the system should be extended to non-Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents with disabilities who can also contribute to the pool of funds. Healthcare is a basic human right. It should be made affordable and accessible to all persons with disabilities living in Singapore.

The Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) has a different healthcare proposal. Specifically, they called for a liberalised Medisave that pays for hospitalisation, outpatient charges and medical coverage offered by private insurers.

I have some misgivings about how such a policy would work for persons with disabilities. Singapore has expressed a reservation on Article 25 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities so private insurers are not legally obliged to provide insurance to persons with disabilities. As a result, persons with disabilities often have difficulty getting insurance. Some might not have enough money in their Medisave account to cover their medical expenses. The focus should really be on lowering the cost of healthcare so that persons with disabilities have access to these services at reasonable/affordable prices. But that is just my two-cents.

Employment

The PAP manifesto did not mention any specific plans to increase income and employment for Singaporeans. Instead, they listed all their achievements such as how they’ve helped older workers stay employed through the Special Employment Credit and helped low-income workers through the Progressive Wage Model and Workfare. Indeed, the PAP has made efforts to keep unemployment low even for people with disabilities. Last year, they established a new agency called SG Enable to provide services for persons with disabilities, and one of their services is employment placement and support.

This is great news for the disability community. But I’d like to see more being done to protect employees with disabilities from discrimination. Currently the issue is not just about getting people with disabilities jobs, but also ensuring that they can maintain the job and have career progression. In a recent study conducted by my organisation, the Disabled People’s Association (DPA), we found that persons with disabilities often face career stagnation or are the first to go when their companies undergo restructuring. This is worrisome, so I’d like to hear how the PAP plan to address this discriminatory practice.

The WP, SDP and SDA proposed many comprehensive employment and wage security schemes in their manifestos. In particular, the SDP and WP proposed a retrenchment insurance scheme for workers who are laid-off from work. These policies could help persons who acquire a disability during their earning years and who find themselves laid-off from work due to their disability.

But, as it is with the PAP manifesto, I’d like to know if the WP, SDP and SDA have any plans to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination in employment? If yes, how do they plan to achieve this goal? And what are their thoughts on  anti-discrimination legislation?

Public Transport

With respect to transport, the PAP manifesto only listed their achievements such as concessions for people with disabilities and transport vouchers for low-income families. These schemes have indeed benefited many persons with disabilities including me.

But there are still areas for improvement in the transport system, especially in regard to the infrastructure and customer service. It would be great to hear the PAP talk more about these transport issues and their proposed solutions.

Interestingly, the WP wrote an article about how they advocated for improved accessibility to public transport for persons with disabilities. For instance, they suggested installing bus announcements at bus stops to inform commuters with a visual disability of the incoming bus service numbers. This policy recommendation, among others, are similar to DPA’s. But apart from this one article posted on their website, transport issues facing persons with disabilities have not surfaced in their manifesto or at their political rallies.

The SDP and SDA, on the other hand, do not have any concrete plans or policy recommendations to improve the accessibility of public transport for persons with disabilities.

Be Informed When You Vote

Elections determine the future of Singapore. And I hope to see a future where all persons with disabilities are given fair and equal opportunities to participate in society – whether in healthcare, employment, recreation, sport etc. This is why it’s extremely important that all eligible Singaporeans, including those of us with a disability, read the parties’ manifestos and attend their political rallies to hear where they stand on these important issues.

What do you think? Which party do you think will best represent the interests of the disability community in Parliament?

Disclaimer: DPA has no affiliation with and is not promoting any one party. DPA is only summarising the points of the campaigning parties’ manifestos and where they stand on disability-specific needs.

For further reading:

Read PAP manifesto: https://www.pap.org.sg/Manifesto/FOREWORD

Read DPA’s booklet on Singapore and the UN CRPD: http://www.dpa.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Singapore-and-UN-CRPD.pdf

Read the Enabling Masterplan: http://app.msf.gov.sg/Portals/0/Topic/Issues/EDGD/Enabling%20Masterplan%202012-2016%20Report%20(8%20Mar).pdf

Read WP Manifesto here: http://wpge2015.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/29111924/Manifesto-2015-Official-online-version.pdf

Read WP’s public transport proposal: http://v1.wp.sg/2015/07/improving-public-transport-for-people-with-disabilities/

Read DPA’s booklet on public transport: http://www.dpa.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Achieving-Inclusion-in-Transport.pdf

Read SDA manifesto: http://singaporedemocraticalliance.sg/sdas-general-election-2015-manifesto/

Learn more about SDP’s healthcare proposal: http://yoursdp.org/publ/sdp_39_s_alternatives/healthcare/31 

Learn more about SDP’s retrenchment scheme: http://yoursdp.org/publ/sdp_39_s_alternatives/economy/sdp_proposes_restart_to_support_retrenched_workers/25-1-0-1488 

A ballot paper marked with a red X is dropped into a transparent ballot box.

Inclusion, the Elections and Disability

by Dr Marissa Medjeral-Mills

The concept of inclusion is not a new one in Singapore. Many of us live and work alongside people of different races, cultures and religions. What is less familiar is the idea that inclusion should involve persons with disabilities.

Historically, persons with disabilities were hidden away from the public. Growing up in Singapore in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, it was rarely the case that I would see persons with disabilities in public or hear them spoken about in the media. Even if persons with disabilities were mentioned, they were often portrayed as objects of sympathy or charity. Persons with disabilities were believed to be suffering from an ailment and as such were not normal and seen as the ‘other’. I was lucky enough to attend a school that had a class for people with special needs and as such was able to form impressions of disability that were not solely based on the media and cultural biases. Even so, I will be honest and say that I was not completely comfortable with the concept of disability. I continued to make assumptions about the experience of being a disabled person that I now know to be wrong.

In recent years, the Government has made great efforts to try and support people with disabilities and more importantly, in my opinion, to change people’s beliefs about being disabled. The most significant step towards this change was the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in November 2013 and implementing the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, which is the national policy to realise the goals of the CRPD. By doing this, the Government embraced the social model of disability, which views disability as the interaction between a person with some form of impairment and barriers in their surrounding environment. This is a change from previous models of disability because it does not locate the disability solely within the person. Additionally, this model puts the onus on society to identify and remove barriers. This model recognises the value that a person with a disability can add to society given the right support, which is different from viewing persons with disabilities as objects of charity who need lifelong care.

In collaboration with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), the Government has created a number of programmes to improve the education of persons with disabilities, increase employment opportunities, make public transport more affordable and accessible and offer more affordable healthcare. As someone who runs a VWO, the Disabled People’s Association, which advocates for the integration of persons with disabilities into society, I have welcomed the concerted effort to better the circumstances of those with a disability in Singapore. Although there is still work to be done in expanding the view of disability to include invisible disabilities such as chronic mental health conditions and those with developmental delay and intellectual disabilities, on the whole I am happy with what has been achieved in such a short space of time.

Yet, given the current preparations for the general elections in Singapore, I cannot help but wonder why not much has been said about persons with disabilities in the media, at political rallies and in party manifestos. Even more disconcerting is the lack of campaigning directed towards persons with disabilities. Due to the fact that voting is compulsory for all Singaporeans, persons with disabilities should have their votes courted by political parties. It is estimated that at least 97,200 Singaporeans have a disability and a significant number of them should be eligible to vote.

Even though persons with disabilities are a minority group in Singapore, members of this diverse community are citizens who deserve the right to have their needs and concerns addressed by those who would run the Government. It could be argued that not all persons with disabilities have the mental capacity to vote or to have an informed opinion about who to vote for. Yet, this misses the point. Treating persons with disabilities as a group of voters worthy of being campaigned to, regardless of their mental and/or physical capacity, is an important part of wholeheartedly including them in society.

One might say that campaigning to persons with disabilities as a group reinforces the idea that they are different from other Singaporeans, thus undermining their inclusion into society. However, to gloss over the fact that the disability community have unique needs would be to ignore the elephant in the room. Admittedly, it is a balancing act to treat persons with disabilities on an equal basis as any other Singaporean and at the same time address disability-specific concerns such as special needs education. Yet, this is not an issue that is unique to the disability community. It is possible to balance speaking to the needs of women in the workplace whilst not making women feel segregated from the rest of society. Much in the same way, persons with disabilities have a range of concerns ranging from disability specific ones to ones that affect the wider population. Recognising this is how voters with disabilities can be treated as any other citizen who should have their political support fought for.

Moving forward I hope to see the progress towards including persons with disabilities become more robust in nature. Inclusion is a journey of progressive realisation, where as a society we should constantly re-evaluate how far we have come and how much more can be done to integrate marginalised groups. I would love to see Singapore move from addressing the day to day needs of persons with disabilities to seeing how they can become more involved in the political process, both as voters and,  in the future, as election candidates.

Dr Marissa Medjeral-Mills is the Executive Director of the Disabled People’s Association.

Singapore Budget 2015 in Brief

Disclaimer: The following is a machine-readable version of the Singapore Budget 2015. There is a pdf version available for download in http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg but it cannot be read by some screen reader softwares. So I have copied the entire Budget, word for word, in this blog to make it accessible to persons unable to access the pdf version. The original pdf version of the Budget can be found here: http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/data/budget_2015/download/FY2015_Budget_in_Brief.pdf.

BUDGET 2015:

Building Our Future, Strengthening Social Security

Our next frontier is an economy with firms driven by innovation, and higher incomes based on deep skills and expertise in every job. We must also ensure a society that is fair and just, where everyone can do well regardless of where they start. This will be built on a culture of personal effort and responsibility complemented by a strong sense of collective responsibility, especially for our elderly.

Developing Our People

Starting in Schools

  • Provide professional education and career counselling to help students make informed choices
  • Improve internships in our Institutes of Higher Learning
  • More opportunities for international exposure

Learning at Every Age

SkillsFuture Credit

  • Initial credit of $500 to Singaporeans 25 & above for work skills-related courses
  • Individual Learning Portfolio: online resource for one-stop education, training and career guidance

SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme

  • Match Polytechnic and ITE graduates with employers for structured on-the-job training and mentorship leading to industry qualifications
  • Substantial funding support for both trainees and employers

Support in Mid Career

  • For Singaporeans 40 & above: Increase education and training subsidy to more than 90% for MOE and WDA courses
  • Flexible learning through subsidised modular courses

Deepening Skills, Gaining Mastery

  • SkillsFuture Study Awards to develop specialist skills in future growth clusters
  • SkillsFuture Fellowships to achieve mastery in diverse fields
  • SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative for companies to develop Singaporean corporate leaders

Stronger Industry Collaboration

  • Involve all stakeholders such as Training Institutes, Unions, Trade Associations and employers
  • Jointly develop Sectoral Manpower Plans to map skills for the future
  • Boost SMEs’ training capabilities through a pool of SkillsFuture Mentors

Pressing on with Restructuring

Transition Support Package (TSP): To give businesses more time to adjust to rising costs as they restructure; TSP will be phased out gradually.

Wage Credit Scheme

  • Extend for 2 years: 2016 & 2017
  • Co-fund 20% of wage increases of Singapore employees earning $4,000 and below

Corporate Income Tax Rebate

  • Extend for 2 years: YA 2016 & 2017
  • 30% rebate capped at $20,000 per YA

PIC Bonus

  • Expire in YA 2015 (but PIC and PIC+ will continue till YA 2018)

Enhance and Extend Temporary Employment Credit (TEC)

The TEC offsets employers’ CPF contributions and is computed as a % of wages.

  • Support for labour costs in Year 2015 is +0.5%.
  • Additional Support for CPF changes in 2016 and 2017 is 1% and 0.5% respectively.

Managing Foreign Workforce Growth: Slower pace of foreign worker tightening

S-Pass Holders

  • All sectors
    • Defer this year’s announced levy increases to 2016

Work Permit Holders

  • Manufacturing sector
    • Freeze levies at 2014 levels for 2015 and 2016
  • Services, Marine and Process sectors
    • Defer this year’s announced levy increases to 2016
  • Construction sector
    • Reduce levy for higher skilled R1 workers (Man-Year Entitlement Waiver Tier) in 2015 and 2016
    • Raise levy for basic skilled R2 workers (Basic Tier) from 2015 to 2017
    • Maintain other levy rates at 2014 levels

Investing in Innovation & Internationalisation

Strengthening Support for Innovation

  • Simpler application process for Capability Development Grant for projects below $30,000 and extend enhanced support of 70% for all projects for 3 years
  • Promote more industry collaborations and partnerships between large companies and SMEs.

Getting more out of R&D

  • Top-up the National Research Fund by $1billion, with greater efforts to help companies develop and commercialise new products

Boost Funding for Growth

  • Help promising startups and companies get funding via:
    • More resources for Business Angels Scheme (BAS) and higher co-investment cap for BAS and Startup Enterprise Development Scheme
    • Pilot Venture Debt Risk-Sharing Programme where Government shares risk with financial institutions for loans to high growth companies with minimal collateral

Going Beyond Our Shores

  • Higher support of 70% for SMEs for all activities under IE Singapore’s grant schemes for 3 years
  • Extend Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation Scheme to cover salaries incurred for Singaporeans posted to new overseas entities
  • International Growth Scheme: 10% concessionary tax rate for income from internationalisation activities

Encouraging Scale

  • Extend and enhance the Mergers & Acquisitions Scheme
  • Support overseas M&A under the Internationalisation Finance Scheme

Assurance in Retirement

Enhancing CPF Savings

Help Singaporeans Save More while Working

  • Increase CPF Salary Ceiling to $6,000 from 2016
  • Increase Supplementary Retirement Scheme contribution cap

Raise CPF Contribution Rates for Older Workers

  • Age 50-55: +1% CPF Contribution Rate by Employer, +1% CPF Contribution Rate by Employee.
  • Age 55-60: +1% CPF Contribution Rate by Employer
  • Age 60-65: +0.5% CPF Contribution Rate by Employer

Extra CPF Interest

  • For all CPF members 55 & above
  • On top of existing 1% extra interest on 1st $60,000 of balances
  • Additional 1% interest on 1st $30,000 of CPF balances
  • Members earn up to 6% interest in total
  • Up to 20% increase in CPF LIFE payouts every month for CPF members with lower balances

Supporting Re-Employment Beyond 65

Higher Special Employment Credit (SEC)

  • For all workers 65 & above
  • Employers will get more help with CPF contributions
  • From up to 8.5% to up to 11.5% of wages in 2015

Silver Support Scheme

  • Income supplement for Singaporeans 65 & above
  • For bottom 20% to 30%, depending on lifetime wages, household support & flat type
  • Cash supplement of $300 to $750 every 3 months
  • Automatic eligibility assessment – no need to apply
  • Implemented around 1Q2016
  • Transitional support through GST Voucher – Seniors’ Bonus (see page 5)

Support Families, Strengthen Community

More Help for Education

Affordable and Quality Child Care

  • New Partner Operator scheme will improve teacher quality and reduce fees at participating centres

Account Top-Ups for Young Singaporeans

  • Aged 6 & Below: $300/$600 in Child Development Account
  • Students aged 7-16: additional $150 in Edusave Account
  • Aged 17-20: $250/$500 in Post-Secondary Education Account

Full Fee Waiver for Exams

  • For full-time Singaporeans students in government-funded schools:
  • PSLE, GCE ‘N’, ‘O’ & ‘A’ level examinations
  • Polytechnic & ITE examinations

Greater Support for Needy Students

  • Additional $6 million grant to Self-Help Groups for stronger programme outreach
  • Increased grants for more school-based assistance at primary, secondary and pre-university levels
  • New transport subsidy for primary & secondary school students on MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme

More Help for Households

Foreign Domestic Worker Concessionary Levy

  • Reduced to $60 per month
  • For households with caregiving needs
  • Extended to households with children 16 & below

GST Vouchers

GSTV – Cash: $50 increase across the board

  • GSTV – Cash for those 54 & below: $150-$300
  • GSTV – Cash & Seniors’ Bonus for seniors 55 to 64: $300-$600
  • GSTV – Cash & Seniors’ Bonus for seniors 65 & above: $300-$900

One-off Rebate for Service & Conservancy Charges

  • Benefits 800,000 households
  • 1 to 3 months of rebates based on flat type

Investing in Infrastructure

We will continue to reinvest in Singapore’s infrastructure to meet our future economic and social needs:

Strengthen our Air Hub

  • Develop Terminal 5

Make Singapore a highly liveable city

  • Improve public transport
  • Develop our heartlands into vibrant homes and communities

Expand our Healthcare system

  • Increase acute and community hospital beds and nursing home capacity

Fostering a Spirit of Giving

Starting Young

  • Government will donate to Institutions of Public Character (IPCs) chosen by educational institutions: $20,000 per school, $150,000 per polytechnic, $250,000 per ITE

Encouraging Donations

  • As part of SG50 celebrations, increase tax deduction rate to 300% for 2015
  • Extend 250% tax reduction from 2016 to 2018

Care & Share @ SG50 Movement

  • Extend dollar-for-dollar matching by Government until 31 Mar 2016

Additional Tax Changes

Personal Income Tax (PIT)

A more progressive PIT rate structure from YA 2017

  • Increase top marginal tax rate from 20% to 22% for chargeable income above $320,000 and increase marginal tax rates for chargeable incomes above $160,000 to $320,000 by 1 to 2%

One-off PIT rebate for YA 2015

  • Rebate of 50% capped at $1,000 to help the middle-income taxpayers especially

Vehicle-Related Taxes: To reduce vehicular carbon emissions and promote a greener living environment

Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme

  • Extend for 2 years: from 1 Jul 2015 to 30 Jun 2017
  • Enhance to encourage shift to greener vehicles

Early Turnover Scheme

  • Enhance from Aug 2015 to encourage replacement of older commercial vehicles with greener ones that meet higher emission standards (details to be announced)

Petrol Duty Changes

  • Increase in Petrol Duty rates, which have remained unchanged since 2003, by $0.15/$0.20 per litre from 23 Feb 2015 onwards

One-year Road Tax Rebate

  • Provide 20% to 100% rebates for petrol vehicles to offset higher petrol duties

More Help for Middle Income Families

To invest in our children’s education

  • More affordable and better quality childcare
  • Top-ups to Child Development Account, Edusave and Post-Secondary Education Accounts
  • Full waiver of national exam fees

To build skills for the future

  • SkillsFuture Credit to pay for courses
  • Higher education and training subsidies for Singaporeans
  • SkillsFuture Study Awards and Fellowships to deepen skills

To save more for retirement

  • Higher CPF Salary Ceiling
  • Higher Supplementary Retirement Scheme contribution cap
  • Higher CPF contribution rates for older workers
  • Encourage employers to hire workers above 65

To cope with costs of living

  • Higher healthcare subsidies
  • Support for MediShield Life premiums
  • Personal Income Tax Rebate for YA 2015
  • Rebates for Service & Conservancy Charges
  • Reduced foreign maid levy for families with children or frail elderly

To care for our elders

  • Healthcare benefits in Pioneer Generation Package
  • Higher CPF Life payouts from extra interest on CPF balances from 55
  • 2015 GSTV-Seniors’ Bonus

For more information, please go to http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg

Singapore Budget 2015: How it affects the disability community

By Jorain Ng

The Singapore Budget 2015 is an important document presenting the Government’s proposed revenue and spending for a financial year. It affects every person living in Singapore, and so has inspired a flurry of articles on its hits and misses.

Yet, to the best of my knowledge, nothing has been written on how the Budget affects the disability community, and even now, many persons with disabilities have no knowledge on what the Budget means for them.

This article examines the Budget, and shows that there are measures indirectly affecting persons with disabilities, but it fails to address some of the more specific needs of the disability community.

Measures Affecting Persons with Disabilities

Instead of addressing persons with disabilities as a group with needs distinct from others, the Government introduced measures to meet the more general needs of individuals. Some of these measures indirectly cater to the needs of persons with disabilities.

The Foreign Domestic Worker Concessionary Levy, for example, is intended to alleviate the financial burden of households with caregiving duties. Households caring for persons with disabilities fall under this rubric, so they too can benefit from the scheme. Another example is the Higher Special Employment Credit (SEC). SEC aims to incentivise the employment of older workers, aged 65 and above, by contributing to their salaries. Senior workers with disabilities fall under this category even if it is not explicitly stated.

More Support for Charities 

The Government also introduced measures that provide more support for Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWO) like my organisation, the Disabled People’s Association (DPA), which indirectly affect persons with disabilities.

One measure, for example, is the increase in tax reductions for donations made this year. VWOs can expect to see an increase in donations from this tax reduction, which will enable them to undertake more projects and initiatives for their clients. With the Government’s extension of the Care & Share Movement until 31 March 2016, a substantial pool of resources is also made available to VWOs – in terms of introducing new projects and building capacity. VWOs will also benefit from having more student volunteers to help raise funds and do projects in the community, as the Government encourages volunteerism in schools by announcing their intention to donate to schools for causes and charities they identify.

These are well-meaning initiatives, to be sure, but I have my reservations.

Assessing them from a meta-policy perspective, these initiatives come across as an attempt to pass the buck to VWOs. VWOs do good work in caring and providing for individuals who need help and support, but it is not their duty to improve the situation and effect sustainable change in the community. This is the Government’s responsibility.

Issues with the Budget

Another concern lies in the Budget’s failure to address some of the more specific needs of persons with disabilities.

One of which is the lack of a robust support structure for students with disabilities studying in mainstream schools. Currently, allied educators help those with special needs in the classroom, and there is specialised training for teachers. But existing programs to recruit and train allied educators are inadequate, and the turnover rate is high due to the lack of career progression. More funding should be invested in programs to hire, train, and retain allied educators.

Funding should also be given to mainstream schools to establish disability support offices (DSO) to cater to the special needs of students and staff members. At present, the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University are the only educational institutions to have DSOs. This good practice should be extended to all educational institutions, especially the primary and secondary schools which hold more students with disabilities than institutes of higher learning.

Can the Budget Win Votes?

Some political analysts have coined the term “election Budget” to describe Singapore Budgets. If Budget 2015 is truly an election Budget packed with goodies, then an interesting question arises. Can Budget 2015 help win the votes of the disability community?

With everyone asking what the Government has done for them, surely persons with disabilities are asking the same. Hopefully, this critical review has shed light on some questions surrounding the Budget, and helped inform the electoral decisions of voters with disabilities.

Enforce Stricter Laws on Disabled Parking Lots

By Jorain Ng

A man leaving a market walks towards the parking lot, when he spotted a car without the SG Enable-issued label parked in a disabled parking lot.[1] He approached the car owner and advised her to move her car, but was rebuffed by the car owner who replied that she did not mind getting fined as she was wealthy.[2]

This is a very disheartening scenario, and one that happens frequently in Singapore. It seems like once every few months a member of the public writes in to Singapore’s newspaper forum citing another abuse of disabled parking lots. All these acts of violation could be prevented if we pass stricter laws on disabled parking.

Although accessibility for persons with mobility impairments is my biggest concern, there are other arguments that point to this solution as well.

The law regulating the use of disabled parking lots lacks bite. Rule 29(1) of the Parking Places Act states that no person shall park in any reserved parking lot unless he is authorised by the Superintendent and unless such authorisation is displayed on the vehicle.[3] Offenders only pay a small price ranging from $25 to $80, depending on the type of vehicle.[4] It is hardly surprising that drivers without the SG Enable-issued labels continue to abuse these disabled parking spaces .[5]

The opposition would argue that imposing stricter laws does not tackle the root cause – the cause being apathy or a general lack of awareness and sensitivity towards the needs of persons with disabilities. Indeed, real kindness cannot be legislated, given the spontaneity of this natural human sentiment that prompts us, at the level of our souls and spirits, to have a care toward each other.

But this rebuttal neglects the symbolic significance of having stricter laws. Stricter laws will give a certain gravitas to the long-standing issue of abuse and send a strong message to the public that continued abuse is a serious matter that will not be tolerated by the Government. It will also signify the Government’s commitment to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Opponents might also argue in favour of the soft approach. Using public awareness and moral appeals to influence public opinion and behaviour, in their opinion, should be the way to go. They inform, educate, and encourage individuals to “do the right thing” which, in this case, is respecting the use of disabled parking lots.

But moral suasion alone will not stop the abuse of disabled parking lots. Ensuring public compliance most often requires the use of both the carrot and the stick. The Singapore government acknowledges this fact and, in their approach to litter prevention for example, continues to enforce strict laws on littering despite conducting “Clean and Green” campaigns.

Enforcing stricter laws will also ensure greater accessibility for persons with physical disabilities. For most wheelchair users traveling to places with no wheelchair-accessible bus services and sheltered linkway from MRT stations, hiring a wheelchair accessible bus or taxi is the preferred mode of transport. The only potential drawback is that the drivers cannot find an available disabled parking spot which will enable them to assist their passenger in boarding and disembarking the vehicle smoothly. Enforcing stricter laws will ensure that these drivers and the passengers they ferry are ensured access to the disabled parking lots.

Another argument opponents might make is that it is not easy to ensure public compliance simply by enforcing stricter laws because of jurisdiction issues. SG Enable may be the agency responsible for issuing the disabled parking labels but they have no legal authority to punish drivers who park at disabled parking lots without authorisation. Currently the Housing Development Board (HDB) have the jurisdiction to fine and give demerit points to illegal parkers at HDB flats. But at other places like shopping malls and private estates, there is no legal authority that can oversee and enforce the law.

Admittedly, there is currently no solution for this issue of jurisdiction. Yet, there are areas where enforcement is possible, like the HDB flats mentioned above. It is at these places where drivers ferrying persons with disabilities or drivers with physical disabilities themselves can benefit from stricter enforcement.

For those of us who are not physically disabled, like the lady mentioned at the start of this paper, it is easy to overlook or even disregard the needs of persons with disabilities. This is where the law, backed in teeth and bite, in conjunction with public education must come into the picture. The outcome will be a Singapore society that is barrier-free and inclusive for persons with disabilities.

ENDNOTES

[1] In Singapore, the SG Enable-issued labels authorises the use of disabled parking lot for a certain amount of time depending on who the driver is. Drivers with physical disabilities can park in the designated lot for any duration, while drivers ferrying people with physical disabilities can temporarily park in the lot for up to 60 minutes only, when ferrying passengers who require the use of bulky mobility aids and must shift their vehicles after bringing their passenger to a safe place. SG Enable, “Car Park Label Scheme for Persons with Physical Disabilities,” https://www.sgenable.sg/schemes/accessibility/car-park-label-scheme-for-persons-with-physical-disabilities/ (accessed 5 Dec 2014).

[2] This is an actual case that occurred in December 29, 2014. Ong Soon Kiat, “Enforce law on handicap parking more strictly,” The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/enforce-law-handicap-parking-more-strictly-20141229 (accessed 10 January 2015).

[3] ‘Parking Places Act,’ No. 5 of 1974, in Chapter 214, Section 8, Republic of Singapore Government Gazette Acts Supplement, http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3A%22777ad723-96ca-4c53-bd25-37190b6f1576%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#pr29-he-. (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

[4] A Motor Cycle pays a $25 fine, Motor Car pays $50 fine, and Heavy Vehicles pays $80 fine. For more information, please see Housing & Development Board, “Parking Rules and Fine Amount,” HDB InfoWEB, “Parking Rules and Fine Amount,” https://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10327p.nsf/w/CarPark1RulesNFine?OpenDocument#ActiveTabContent (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

[5] Goh Chin Lian, “Nicholas Aw: ‘We need laws to protect rights of the disabled’,” Singapolitics, 16 Nov. 2013, http://www.singapolitics.sg/supperclub/nicholas-aw-we-need-laws-protect-rights-disabled (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Goh Chin Lian. “Nicholas Aw: ‘We need laws to protect rights of the disabled’.” Singapolitics, 16 Nov. 2013, http://www.singapolitics.sg/supperclub/nicholas-aw-we-need-laws-protect-rights-disabled (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

HDB InfoWEB. “Parking Rules and Fine Amount.” https://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10327p.nsf/w/CarPark1RulesNFine?OpenDocument#ActiveTabContent (accessed 5 Dec. 2014).

Ong Soon Kiat. “Enforce law on handicap parking more strictly.” The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/enforce-law-handicap-parking-more-strictly-20141229 (accessed 10 January 2015).

‘Parking Places Act.’ No. 5 of 1974, in Chapter 214, Section 8, Republic of Singapore Government Gazette Acts Supplement, http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3A%22777ad723-96ca-4c53-bd25-37190b6f1576%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#pr29-he-. (accessed 5 Dec. 2014)

SG Enable. “Car Park Label Scheme for Persons with Physical Disabilities.” https://www.sgenable.sg/schemes/accessibility/car-park-label-scheme-for-persons-with-physical-disabilities/ (accessed 5 Dec 2014).

A Nebulous Relationship: Chronic Mental Illness & Disability

By Jorain Ng

Today I’d like to answer a question that has befuddled the minds of many thinking about the relationship between chronic mental illness and disability. By ‘chronic’, I mean a long duration of illness, which may include periods of seeming wellness interrupted by exacerbations of acute symptoms. Chronic depression, schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are such examples.

The question is simply this: Is chronic mental illness a disability?

If you came here looking for a straightforward answer, you’d be severely disappointed to know that there is none.

This is a really tricky question which answer varies according to the organisation or individual you’re asking, and so the topic deserves its own blog post.

Chronic Mental Illness is a Disability

From the standpoint of my organisation, the Disabled People’s Association, chronic mental illness is a form of disability.

We see disability as a condition which restricts a person’s mental, sensory or mobility functions. By this definition, a person with chronic mental illness should be seen as having a disability because the chronic illness, if highly debilitating, may lead to the permanent impairment of the person’s sensory, mobility or mental functions.

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is one such example. The condition is caused by muscle diseases that weaken the musculoskeletal system and hamper locomotion. A person with MD could even lose his or her ability to walk. In this sense MD is as much a chronic illness as it is a disability.

Moreover, when one considers the implications of having chronic mental illness, there can be little doubt that the effects are similar to those living with a disability.

Like persons with disabilities, those with chronic mental illness face various barriers such as stigmatisation which hinders their full and effective participation in society. The reality today is that many employees will not voluntarily disclose that they suffer from a mental health disorder. Those who do disclose on their resume often face difficulty finding suitable employment.

Singapore Government’s Stance

The Singapore government takes a different stance from that of DPA’s, which can sometimes appear to be contradictory.

Although a signatory of the United Nations (UN) Conventions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which includes chronic mental illness under the disability category, the various government agencies and ministries do not always recognise the relationship in practice.

On one hand, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS)/Social Service Institute (SSI) lists an SSI course on Mental Illness under the disability category. On the other hand, persons with chronic mental illness are not eligible for policies, schemes, and initiatives such as the Open Door Programme, which are intended for persons with disabilities.

What might be the reason for this confusing stance?

It must be noted that chronic mental illness as a disability is a modern concept recently established in the past decade.

In the past, the Singapore government saw both groups as clearly distinct from each other, and this categorisation informed the way in which policymakers formulated policies intended for persons with chronic mental illness and disabilities. What we see today is a result of years of policymaking. Removing the distinction will require radical policy changes that will affect various disability service providers and mental health agencies like the Institute of Mental Health and Singapore Association for Mental Health.

That the Singapore government is hesitant in fully committing to the definition in the UN Convention in practice is therefore not surprising.

Why the Definition Matters

This should not be news to anyone.

But how one defines or indeed categorises a condition, especially those of a permanent nature, can include and exclude a person from receiving the necessary accommodation (financial support, employment support etc.) to study and work an equal basis with others.

To borrow an earlier example, the Open Door Programme initiated by SG Enable is a policy aimed at incentivising and thereby enhancing the employability of persons with disabilities. A person with disability looking for employment may, for instance, apply for training grants to attend pre-employment and skill training. But this government-funded initiative is not available for persons with chronic mental illness simply because they do not meet the eligibility criteria.

What, then?

What does this mean for a person with chronic mental illness needing accommodation in employment and education?

Given the unofficial recognition of chronic mental illness as a disability, it will be wise for any person with chronic mental illness to approach the relevant government agencies like the NCSS for enquiries on the policies, schemes, and initiatives for persons with disabilities.

While their answers may not always be forthcoming, you can be sure that the NCSS is sympathetic to the needs of every persons living in Singapore, including those with chronic mental illness.

As of now, refashioning the categories according to the UN Convention in Singapore will be a difficult task, and one which will take years. The Singapore government will require the unanimous support from all disability agencies and mental health institutions to make it a reality. And this support can only be garnered through dialogue sessions, conferences, and consultations  – hefty work which will require all three sides to see eye to eye on pertinent areas.

Introduce laws to protect rights of disabled people

Straits Times Forum, 16 January 2015 (print edition)

MR ONG Soon Kiat suggested ways to deter illegal parking in spaces reserved for disabled drivers (“Enforce law on handicap parking more strictly”; Dec 29).

The Disabled People’s Association agrees that more needs to be done to ensure that people who need these spaces are able to access them.

These larger parking spaces, which allow more space for disabled people to get in and out of their cars, are only for those who display the SG Enable-issued label.

The abuse of parking spaces reserved for persons with disabilities is just one example of how these people are discriminated against.

We often see the improper use of reserved seats on public transport and toilets for persons with disabilities, to name a few instances of everyday abuse by those who are selfish or simply apathetic.

To stem such inconsiderate behaviour, we call on the authorities to adopt a more holistic and effective approach to ensure that persons with disabilities are afforded the same opportunities as those without disabilities.

Singapore has taken great steps towards becoming more inclusive, yet discriminatory behaviour continues to hinder the ability of those with disabilities to properly integrate and participate in society.

Public education campaigns can only go so far towards changing people’s behaviour, and we call on the Government to implement laws to protect the rights of those with disabilities.

Such laws do not afford persons with disabilities special privileges, instead they are needed to ensure that these people have the same opportunities and protection as everyone else in Singapore.

Nicholas Aw
President
Disabled People’s Association

One Education System for All

Dear readers, I have decided to change the format of my blog entry today.

This is my position paper on special education.

I invite any reader who discovers a problem with my argument to point it out to me in the comment section. I would be sincerely grateful to have different perspectives on this subject.


ONE EDUCATION SYSTEM FOR ALL

by Jorain Ng

A lady in her mid-thirties with moderate autism paces around her parent’s house aimlessly, sometimes speaking and shouting to no one in particular. With no educational degree or certificates, the lady remains unemployed. To care for her daughter’s daily needs, her mother left her job and became a fulltime homemaker. Now in their late sixties, her parents constantly worry about their daughter’s future well-being. This is a very disheartening scenario, and one that occurs to many Singaporean families who were unable to send their children to school.

In the recent years, the educational opportunities for children with disabilities have been steadily improving. With the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 18 August 2013 and the introduction of the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, the Singapore government, in particular the Ministry of Education (MOE), has started to take on more roles in the governance of Special Education (SPED), and worked closely with the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and the SPED schools to enhance the quality of the curriculum, pedagogy, and professionals of SPED. [1] Such efforts are commendable but access to education remains a problem for children with disabilities. Due to their automatic exemption from Singapore’s Compulsory Education (CE) Act, the education rights of these children are left unprotected. [2] To guarantee and protect their right to education, this paper argues for the need to extend CE to children with disabilities, placing SPED under the ultimate governance of MOE.

Qualified, not Automatic Exemption

Opponents of legislation would argue that this model of education is educationally inappropriate and impractical. In her letter to Singapore’s newspaper, the Straits Times, Mrs Loke-Yeo Teck Yong, Director of the Education Services Division from MOE, contended that “we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach, especially for students with special needs, who have a broad and diverse range of needs.”[3] She also pointed out that “it may be overly harsh on both caretakers and the child [with severe multiple disabilities and medical conditions] to enforce the CE Act on them. They may be better served by home-based education and care.”[4]

It seems, however, that this argument misunderstands how CE would be applied to children with disabilities. Granted, the disabled minority have varying functional and productivity levels; no one type of learning would suit them all. But there is no reason why MOE taking a greater governance role in SPED would mean that the needs of these children would not be catered for. Currently, there are already a number of children with disabilities in mainstream schools, and Allied Educators work closely with teachers to support them.[5] In this way, MOE already cares for those with different learning styles, and thus does not run a “one-size-fits-all” education system.

Moreover, legislation does not negate the possibility of exemption for those truly unable to attend schools. Currently, an exemption clause is already in place for children intended for home-schooling and religious schools.[6] Legislation would place children with disabilities under the same clause, and require parents or caregivers to satisfy certain MOE requirements before applying to the Compulsory Education Unit for a certificate for exemption. In this way, exemptions are not automatic but qualified. So those with more severe disabilities could apply for exemptions from CE in the same way any home-schooled student would.

Issue of Enrolment

Another point of contention lies in the necessity of introducing legislation when other issues have yet to be resolved. In the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and other stakeholders decided that legislation “may not be the only solution” and that “it is even more important for government, NCSS and education service providers to address other barriers to accessing special education, such as parental education, professional capacity and resources.”[7]

But this argument glosses over the fact that not all children with disabilities would have the opportunity to benefit from these improvements in the education system. Increased professional capacity and resources often do not trickle down to the broad masses. Despite the collaborative effort made by MSF (then known as the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports), NCSS and other parties in the disability sector in expanding the capacity of the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) up to 40% over the last few years, the waiting list for places remain long.[8] “EIPIC currently serve only about 40% of the 2000 children who are diagnosed with moderate to severe developmental delays each year.”[9] Thus the more pressing issue to be addressed should be enrolment. If CE was extended to children with disabilities, there would be a legal responsibility for the Government to ensure that they have a place in an educational institution, be it a mainstream school or SPED school. It is hard to imagine other solutions to this long-standing issue.

Limitations of Current SPED Model

Related to the issue of enrolment is the governance of SPED schools. Historically, all SPED schools have been independently run by Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs). The Pathlight School and Metta School, for examples, are run by the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and Metta Welfare Association respectively.[10] The board of these VWOs and the school management committees currently make decisions on how SPED schools are to be run.[11]

Despite all the good work done by everyone involved in special education, there seems no question that the current SPED model suffers from several limitations. According to the Enabling Masterplan:

the lack of homogeneity in the SPED model has created unevenness in the quality of education across different SPED schools as well as impediments for special education to progress on strategic issues such as manpower development and curriculum. There are strong ground sentiments from professionals to reform the leadership structure with greater ownership by MOE to complement the strengths of the VWOs.[12]

Parents expressed a similar desire to have greater support from the Government in terms of supervision over SPED schools. In 2003, a survey of parents revealed that “96% of 2,489 parents of special needs children were in favour of compulsory education.”[13]

Benefits of Extending CE

The long term benefits of extending CE to children with disabilities must be highlighted. Firstly, formal education will enhance the employability of persons with disabilities. The open job market today requires formal certification. This makes it necessary for persons with disabilities to obtain educational degrees and certificates equally with others in order to complete and be part of the workforce. Considering that persons with disabilities suffer from disproportionally higher rates of unemployment due to discrimination, this becomes all the more important.[14] In the long run, the negative impact of the unemployment of persons with disabilities on gross domestic product will be reduced.[15]

Secondly, an integrated national education system will create more opportunities for meaningful interaction, which will help promote an inclusive society based on mutual respect and rights. By integrating SPED into national education, all schools will be under the same governing body, making it easier for institutions to engage in cross campus activities. So students from SPED schools could visit their neighbouring mainstream schools to share physical facilities, play and even learn together. There are currently two SPED schools – Pathlight School and Canossian School – involved in such satellite partnerships with mainstream schools.[16] Known as the Satellite School Model, this good practice should be encouraged. Regular interaction between students with disabilities and their typically developing peers will encourage and instil in children the mindset of inclusion from young, and educate children to appreciate and respect others for their differences.

Students’ Education is Ministry’s Responsibility

For readers still unconvinced, we need only consider the symbolic meaning of having SPED under the purview of welfare organizations rather than the MOE. The clear separation in governance implies that the education of children with disabilities is a matter of welfare, when really all students’ education is the ministry’s responsibility.

Conclusion

For all the reasons listed above, I believe that MOE can and should play a bigger role and responsibility by integrating SPED schools into the national education system. This requires the enforcement of the Compulsory Education (CE) Act on children with disabilities, which will place SPED under the ultimate governance of the ministry. Let’s not forget that children with disabilities are, like their typically developing peers, full-fledged Singaporean citizens deserving of equal treatment.


Endnotes

[1] The term “special education schools” are commonly used to refer to school systems that only receive students with impairments as opposed to “mainstream schools” that receive students with or without impairments. Teck Yong, Loke-Yeo, “Special Education Can’t Be One Size Fits All,” Straits Times, October 10, 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/archive/saturday/premium/forum-letters/story/special-education-cant-be-one-size-fits-all-20141011 (accessed October 20, 2014); See also Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan Steering Committee, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, 2012, p. 32.

[2] I recognize that there is no barrier to access, but rather that access remains limited because there is no legal responsibility for MOE to ensure that all children with disabilities are placed in an educational institution. Ministry of Education, “Compulsory Education: Exemptions,” Ministry of Education, Singapore, http://www.moe.gov.sg/initiatives/compulsory-education/exemptions/ (accessed October 20, 2014).

[3] Teck Yong, “Special Education Can’t Be One Size Fits All,” October 10, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ministry of Education, “MOE to Provide Greater Support for Special Education,” Ministry of Education, Singapore, March 10, 2010, http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2010/03/moe-to-provide-greater-support.php (accessed October 20, 2014).

[6] Ministry of Education, “Compulsory Education: Exemptions,” http://www.moe.gov.sg/initiatives/compulsory-education/exemptions/.

[7] Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, pp. 34-5.

[8] Ibid., p. 14.

[9] “Child Development Programme Statistics of Children Diagnosed with Developmental Delays,” in Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 9.

[10] Ministry of Education, “List of Special Education Schools,” Ministry of Education, Singapore http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/special-education/schoollist/ (accessed 20 October 2014).

[11] Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 33.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Jessie Ee. (2003). Attitudes of parents on compulsory education for special needs in Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 34.

[14] United Nations, General Assembly, Thematic study on the right of persons with disabilities to education: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/25/29 (18 December 2013), available from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/Pages/ThematicStudies.aspx, p. 5

[15] Sebastian Buckup, “The price of exclusion: The economic consequences of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work”, Employment Working Paper, No. 43 (ILO, 2009) in United Nations, Thematic Study on the right of persons with disabilities to education, p. 5.

[16] Pathlight School, “Secondary School,” Pathlight, http://www.pathlight.org.sg/programmes/secondary-school (accessed October 20, 2014); Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 38.


Bibliography

Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan Steering Committee. Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016. 2012.

Ministry of Education. “Compulsory Education: Exemptions.” Ministry of Education, Singapore. http://www.moe.gov.sg/initiatives/compulsory-education/exemptions/ (accessed October 20, 2014).

Ministry of Education. “MOE to Provide Greater Support for Special Education,” Ministry of Education, Singapore. March 10, 2010, http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2010/03/moe-to-provide-greater-support.php (accessed October 20, 2014).

Pathlight School. “Secondary School.” Pathlight. http://www.pathlight.org.sg/programmes/secondary-school (accessed October 20, 2014).

Teck Yong, Loke-Yeo. “Special Education Can’t Be One Size Fits All.” Straits Times, October 10, 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/archive/saturday/premium/forum-letters/story/special-education-cant-be-one-size-fits-all-20141011.

United Nations, General Assembly. Thematic study on the right of persons with disabilities to education: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. A/HRC/25/29 (18 December 2013), available from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/Pages/ThematicStudies.aspx.

Why S’pore needs disability legislation

TODAY Comment & Analysis, 3 December 2013

by Alvan Yap

If I toss a piece of tissue paper on the ground and I am caught in the act, I could be fined S$300 as a first-time offender. Repeat offenders face increasingly hefty fines, up to a staggering S$5,000. I could also be sentenced to perform, as a National Environment Agency (NEA) press release puts it, “embarrassing” and “onerous” Corrective Work Orders which involve picking up litter in public places.

Now, say, I deny service to a blind person with a guide dog at my business, or prevent access for a wheelchair user to my workplace, or refuse to sponsor my deaf employee for a training course without valid reasons. What are the consequences for such blatantly discriminatory acts?

Perhaps what is most shocking is how unsurprising the answer turns out to be: Nothing embarrassing or onerous will befall me, in theory and in practice. Most likely, nothing will happen to me at all. (The above scenarios are not hypothetical. Such incidents have happened and are still happening.)

And in this glaring disparity lies the impetus and key justification for having a disability rights law.

PROS AND CONS
Explaining why Singapore should enact anti-discrimination laws is the easy part: Following our ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the next and logical step would be to pass laws to guarantee and protect the rights of the disabled minority among us. That much seems obvious, if not long overdue.

What might be less apparent to most people is that passing such laws is not a seamless or inevitable, much less immediate, development.

First, some feel such legislation is impractical because it impinges on the realm of moral and ethical values. And this is true — kindness and compassion cannot be legislated. Nor can they be enforced. It follows, then, that moral suasion, raising public awareness and promoting civic consciousness are more realistic ways to bring about change.

This view, however, fails to take into account the many practical measures, backed by legislation or an authority, that can be undertaken to improve the lives of the disabled. The Building and Construction Authority’s Code on Accessibility is one stellar example. Just imagine how a Media and Development Authority Code on Accessibility could benefit blind and deaf consumers of broadcast media.

We should also not fall into the trap of thinking those with disabilities are somehow allowed only two mutually exclusive options — either legislation or public education. Why not both?

This dual-track strategy has been done: Look no further than the Government’s anti- littering strategy. Besides the use of laws (and harsh penalties) as a blunt weapon, the NEA also takes the soft approach via public education and social pressure (the annual Clean and Green campaign has been running for 45 years).

Likewise, disability legislation would have both deterrent and symbolic value. We cannot nab every litterbug or penalise every discriminatory act, but deterring would-be culprits and punishing offenders are not the sole purposes of legislation. It has another crucial, yet often overlooked, role. It implicitly expresses what the Government and, by extension, society value — the cleanliness of the environment, the rights of people with disabilities and other issues so regulated.

The anti-littering law also targets the recalcitrant minority, rather than the law-abiding majority who do not litter. A disability rights law would have a similar impact.

IT’S ABOUT RIGHTS, EQUALITY
Others argue that we already have the comprehensive Enabling Masterplan to cater to the disability and special needs communities. Would this not obviate the need for legislation?

The masterplan, in summary, identifies the gaps in the social welfare system pertaining to the needs of people with disabilities and makes recommendations to resolve them. It accordingly adopts a predominantly service-oriented approach.

On other hand, the CRPD, at heart, is about affirming the rights of people with disabilities to independent living, equal access and equal treatment in all aspects of life, enabling and enforcing these rights through legislation and other measures. Without laws backed with teeth and bite, there is no onus on recalcitrant culprits to change their behaviour and attitude.

Some urgent needs are also not addressed by any existing guidelines. Take, for instance, the issue of the quality of support for students with disabilities in most institutes of higher learning: Any provisions for their needs are on an ad hoc basis and based solely on the institution’s goodwill and discretion. To be more precise, it depends on the kindness and efforts — which may not always be forthcoming — of individual administrators, lecturers or other staff.

This is clearly not an ideal situation, as it subjects the student with disability to much uncertainty and anxiety. Why not legislation or a binding requirement, as in many Western countries that require educational institutions to provide reasonable accommodation at no additional cost?

BABY STEPS FORWARD
Disability rights laws are not new concepts, as the examples of the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States show. Nor are they restricted to western countries; China, Malaysia and Japan have such laws too.

To allay concerns over the potential for abuse of any such law by freeloaders or fraudsters and address the fears of businesses about possible compliance costs, it should be precisely targeted and worded in the following areas: How disability is defined; what actions (or inaction) comprise discrimination; areas and situations in which the disabled are protected; the concepts of “reasonable accommodation” and not causing “undue hardship” to providers; exemptions and exceptions to the law; penalties for violations; and mechanisms for meditation and out-of-court settlements.

Existing legislation we can study, adapt and adopt from are the Americans with Disabilities Act, the United Kingdom’s Equality Act and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act, which are regarded as being the gold standard. These are admittedly not flawless pieces of legislation. The upside is, we have the benefit of learning from their shortcomings, fine-tuning provisions and plugging loopholes.

Not all of these ideas can be implemented overnight due to resource, manpower or expertise constraints. But this should not be a reason to shy away from considering a disability rights law. The Government could publicly commit to such legislation, allowing for implementation to follow a time frame which accounts for existing limitations.

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year also marks Singapore’s historic ratification of the CRPD. Let us work together to ensure these signify the beginning of a new era for the local community of persons with disabilities. And let us quicken our pace, just that bit more, towards a truly inclusive society.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alvan Yap is deaf and has worked in the education, publishing and social service sectors. The world marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today.