Although Disabled People’s Association (DPA) appreciates the well-meaning sentiments behind Mr Dino Trakakis’ letter ‘Build special flats for those with autism’, DPA thinks his suggestions oversimplify the need for independent living options for persons with disabilities and the role the community plays in supporting that living arrangement.
While living independently is an important milestone for any adult, and adults with autism should be no exception, having support from the community is important in ensuring that adults with autism do not end up being isolated. In addition, just like non-autistic people, autistic persons each have different personalities and needs. Soundproofing units only addresses one small area of concern (mostly on the side of potential neighbours and/or the autistic person who may have extreme noise sensitivity) and not all autistic people have difficulty living with others under the same roof, in fact, many autistic persons enjoy living with others and benefit greatly from living within a supportive community. There must be much more done to address the integration needs of autistic people moving out of family homes or institutional care. Indeed, this is important for all persons with disabilities.
It is important to note that even in land-scarce Singapore, independent living options are not just about affordability and the accessibility of a housing unit. “Independence” for an adult with any disability is about providing the space to make decisions about their own lives. These decisions can empower adults and act as the foundation for people with disabilities to have independence in other aspects of their lives.
For example, in Australia, there are homes built with flat mate arrangements where adults with disabilities can benefit from companionship while also exercising control over their own lives. And in the United Kingdom, in addition to purpose-built homes, personal assistants provided by housing charities visit adults with disabilities at regular intervals to assist and provide support where required. A little closer to home, in Japan there are independent living centres built as community-based group homes that also focus on advocacy. These additional initiatives encourage adults with disabilities to participate in the policy-making processes on disability-related issues.
In Singapore we can come up with policies that support independent living arrangements that are appropriate to our unique cultural and socio-economic situation as long as we engage all the stakeholders, including persons with disabilities, the policy makers and members of the public who will be the future neighbours of the persons with disabilities. If we co-create policies as a community then we can avoid the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality that sometimes rears its ugly head when discussing supported living housing arrangements.
These are solutions that better address concerns that parents have for their children with disabilities, and that adults with disabilities can enjoy whether they have “unhappy and dysfunctional relationships with their families” or not.
Whatever solution is proposed, it should not lead to further isolation of adults with disabilities by further stigmatizing their disabilities within the wider community.
Mr Richard Kuppusamy
Disabled People’s Association
Address: 1 Jurong West Central 2, #04-01 Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore 648886