ballot

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 

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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.