Letters to the media

A compilation of DPA letters to the Straits Times Forum. Topics range from education, transport, media to employment.

Let us walk the talk on inclusiveness

Today Online, 16 February 2017


Campaigns are a great way to remind us of things that must be done, but they can do only so much to reach out (“New campaign focuses on greater acceptance for people with disabilities”; Feb 11).

What happens after a campaign has run its course? Let us look at other attempts to make Singapore more inclusive.

What has the Purple Parade done to achieve awareness and inclusivity? What have people done after going to the parade? Was it only a one-day event for them?

At last year’s National Day Parade, it was wonderful when we signed in unison with Count on Me, Singapore. What have we done since then? Was it only for that moment?

In terms of employment matters, our biggest employers should lead the way. I am hopeful the Budget will lean towards that.

My view is that the changing of mindsets is crucial. Besides starting our children young, it would be good to have contact or friendships with those who are different.

If one has a friend who is different, one may appreciate the challenges he faces and be empathetic towards differences.

Let us not only talk about campaigns, acceptance and whatnot but also walk the talk and do something that would help us appreciate people who are different, and maybe we would see things from their viewpoint.

Acceptance and inclusiveness may then come automatically.

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”.

Disability toilets more about lowering barriers

Straits Times Forum, 3 September 2015 (print edition)

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) agrees that public education should be done alongside a system that limits public access to disability facilities (“Get public on board to refrain from using toilets for the disabled” by Mr Edmund Wan of the Handicaps Welfare Association; Monday).

Jurong Point’s move should be complemented with education to help change behaviour over time.

To clarify DPA’s earlier comment that Jurong Point’s scheme misses the point, it is our position that merely controlling access to toilets for people with disabilities does not tackle the wider issue of changing the mindsets of people who would abuse those facilities (“Tap-in to use toilet for the disabled / Malls ‘will study card access system’“; last Friday, and “Good way to overcome abuse of toilets” by Mr Tan Sin Liang; Forum Online, yesterday).

Limiting access alone does not explain why the access is controlled in the first place; it has to be complemented with education.

People who think that toilets for people with disabilities should be accessible to all will continue to believe that, unless there is some effort to explain and justify the need for such controls.

It could even be argued that limiting access could take away the onus to do more public education.

Public education is an important tool to improve awareness and motivate social change.

Educating people about the proper use of specialised toilets could even have the wider effect of raising awareness about the proper use of other disability-related facilities, such as parking spots for those with mobility issues.

Toilets for people with disabilities are not about giving a group of people special treatment or prioritised access.

Like Mr Wan said, people using wheelchairs have no choice but to use the specially designed toilets.

Although the DPA understands the frustration of having to queue when there is an empty cubicle for people with disabilities, that cubicle needs to remain for the sole use of whom it is designed for (“Maximise, not curb, use of toilets for the disabled” by Mr Wong Boon Hong , and “Curbing toilet use not best solution” by Mr Chua Cheok Kwang; Forum Online, both published yesterday).

Unlike priority seats on MRT trains, users cannot see and give up the cubicle when someone who needs it more shows up.

Even suggesting a priority queue system for these toilets disregards the issue at hand.

There are many barriers that people with disabilities face in their everyday life, including getting around the older parts of Singapore and trying to find a job.

Ensuring unqualified access to toilets for people with disabilities is just one way society can try to reduce the number of barriers that people with disabilities have to deal with.

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

Integrated system can be win-win for all students

Straits Times Forum, 26 January 2015 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) thanks Mrs Padmini Kesavapany for her comments on mainstreaming children with special needs (“Kids with special needs: Modified curriculum not the answer”; last Thursday).

We recognise that there are not enough allied educators, but the current lack of resources does not mean that an integrated national education system cannot work.

As mentioned in our previous letters (“Help kids with special needs fit into mainstream”; Jan 17, and “Special education schools should be part of national system”; Forum Online, Oct 18, 2014), introducing modified curricula will not add more burden to the mainstream teachers’ workload. These modified curricula could be taught at specialised classes by specialised teachers within mainstream schools.

It must also be noted that the DPA is not saying that it is the duty of mainstream teachers to develop a modified curriculum. This is best left to the Ministry of Education and Special Education teachers who have the expertise and knowledge.

At present, two international schools – Dover Court International and Integrated International – are trying out this curriculum strategy for integration and they seem to be working well.

Through their supportive education programmes, students with special needs are integrated as much as possible into the mainstream schools where they learn and play together with their mainstream peers.

And both schools have specialised classes that cater to those with special needs.

The DPA is not advocating an education system that is “one size fits all”. The DPA works with a diverse group of people with different disabilities, and recognises that no one type of learning would suit them all.

The DPA is confident that an integrated education system can work and will benefit all students with and without special needs.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)

Executive Director

Disabled People’s Association