disability community

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

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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”.

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Inclusion: what does it really mean for people with disabilities?

By Jorain Ng

In Singapore, the term “inclusion” gets thrown around a lot when we talk about how people with disabilities should be treated in our society. You can see this term almost everywhere, from ministerial speeches, campaign slogans to companies motto. But what does “inclusion” really mean?

Most would paint a general idea of inclusion and say something along the lines of “including people with disabilities equally and fairly in society”. But this begs the question. We all have divergent, even contesting, views on what constitute “fairness” and “equality”.

Not too long ago, I attended a focus group session for persons with disabilities to share their views and experiences on social inclusion. Our facilitator asked us to define what inclusion means in employment. We gave generic replies such as fair hiring practices and equal opportunities for career progression. “Equal pay, equal work,” I answered at one point. I wanted to drive home the point that a person with disability should be treated equitably as their colleagues in compensation, professional development and accountability.

The facilitator then brought up a hypothetical case study to provoke further discussion on this notion of “equal pay, equal work.” He asked: If an employee with a disability who comes from a lower income household is unable to meet his KPI (Key Performance Indicator), how should his employer remunerate him? Should the employer offer him a salary based on his productivity level, or the same salary given to his colleagues who are doing the same line of work but with higher productivity levels?

Much to my surprise, the other respondents supported the latter practice. They even quipped that the company could hire the man to be a “poster boy” for their Corporate Social Responsibility events.

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at their response. Didn’t they know that such employment practices only reinforced the negative stereotypes of persons with disabilities as objects of charity? How could it be an acceptable practice of inclusion?

But I wasn’t there to judge. We live a free country; everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. And mine was starkly different. “I still stand by what I said previously. Equal pay, equal work. The man should be paid according to his productivity level.”

To gain respect from a society that prides itself on being a meritocracy, it is important that persons with disabilities are treated as equals, not beneficiaries of a company’s generosity. Anything more would be an insult to his dignity, an act of tokenism which we all know to be a sad excuse for inaction, and a counterproductive measure that reinforces the charity model of disability. If a man’s salary is insufficient in supporting his livelihood, he should seek financial help from the Ministry of Social and Family Development. It is the Government’s responsibility to look after the welfare of their citizens, after all.

I’m not sure how others took to my reply, but I know it was definitely not met with overwhelming support. This is understandable. Our background and circumstances, combined with our physiological makeups, influence our perception and thought processes. What may seem like an acceptable practice to me may be unacceptable to others.

The question then is how can policymakers translate these multiple and competing views into a coherent set of inclusion policies, particularly one that seeks to protect, promote and support the rights of all persons with disabilities?

For a start, the disability community need to come together to reach a common understanding on what counts as “inclusion” in Singapore. For example, in the provision of education for students with disabilities, should special schools continue to exist?  If an employee is unable to fulfill his job responsibilities due to limitations arising from his disability, should the company pay him the same salary as offered to his co-workers? These are just some of the tough and debatable questions that need to be addressed. I’m not going to sugar-coat. It’s going to be a complicated, hair-pulling exercise, but it is something I think we all desperately need.

 

Future of Us

By Jan Evans

“Imagine what Singapore could be in the future”

So reads the front page headline of “The Future Express”, a newspaper distributed at The Future of Us exhibition, the capstone event to Singapore’s SG50 year of celebration.

I attended the Opening Day on 1 December and enjoyed the various multimedia presentations which suggest ways in which Singaporeans might live, work, play, care and learn in the future.

The exhibition was wheelchair accessible but I felt that an opportunity was missed to make it more accessible to persons with disabilities other than those relating to mobility:  Closed captioning in English, Sign Language interpreters in video stream, braille signage and more tactile exhibits would have helped include people with different disabilities.

It was the Theatre of Generations which made the most impact with me. In a film projected above us we met four people from the future (2030) – Yi Xin, Joseph, Faizal and Ravina – and learned of their dreams and aspirations as they drew inspiration from their grandparents in 1965.   It wasn’t the futuristic images that stayed in my mind nor the 360 degree projection screen overhead:  It was the simple image (often front and centre screen in group shots) of Yi Xin, a designer, who also happened to be a wheelchair user.  Noone drew attention to this fact, there was no fanfare, nor was there wide acclaim of the fact that she was a professional “in spite of her disability”. It was a simple visual statement.  And more effective for its simplicity.

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Photo shows Yi Xin, a designer, who also happened to be a wheelchair user.

I have attended many Disability Awareness events and conferences over the past few months. They are usually attended by people who are already interested and involved in raising Disability Awareness in Singapore : “Preaching to the converted” was a phrase used in one conference.   Many people who want to “be the change” in Singapore comment that they rarely saw people with disabilities when they were growing up or going to school.

On the way to Gardens by the Bay (the location of the exhibition), my friend and I passed through the Shoppes at Marina Bay and, as we turned the corner, found ourselves in the middle of what appeared to be a Wheelchair Rally:  We had walked into the ASEAN Para Games Welcome Event at Marina Bay Sands.  My friend commented, “I have never seen so many wheelchairs!”  “Isn’t it great!” I said.

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Photo shows Barney, a purple dinosaur, at the Purple Parade 2015.

After the Purple Parade (at the end of October) there was a photo posted on FaceBook featuring one character in the parade. The caption read, “Look at our cute purple dino at ‪#‎PurpleParadeSG” .  In fact, the subject of the photo was the title character from the well loved children’s American TV series, “Barney & Friends”, which aired from 1992–2009. The series featured Barney, a purple dinosaur, who comes to life in the imagination of children and conveys educational messages through songs and dance routines. Barney’s friends included a small group of children from different ethnic backgrounds.  One of Barney’s friends was a boy called David, a wheelchair user (played by Robert Hurtekant, a wheelchair user in real life). I don’t recall any special mention of his wheelchair, he was simply – well – included.

The Future of Us exhibition calls on Singaporeans “to share their hopes and dreams for themselves, their family and the nation.”

I dream that people with disabilities are so part of the everyday visual landscape, so able to move freely from place to place, so populating and productive in the workplace that the situation is totally unnoticeable and unworthy of comment.

“Imagine what Singapore could be in the future”?

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that these dreams will become a reality in the very near future …

And that they do not only “come to life” – like Barney the Purple Dinosaur – merely in the imagination of the naive.

The Future of Us Exhibition is on until 8 March 2016.  Tickets are available for various time slots and are free – see http://www.thefutureofus.sg/

Jan Evans is a volunteer at the Disabled People’s Association. She joined the team last year 2014 and has contributed to DPA’s research and publications. 

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

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.

A wheelchair user’s cruise experience

by Gilbert Tan

It was a multiple stop cruise in Asian ports. Knowing the ‘Mariner of the Seas’ docks at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre was a bonus in convenience. Though I love travel, taking an aircraft is a major logistical challenge. Now with the MRT running to Marina South Pier station, transit is economically easy though there is still a 20-minute stroll to board the ship.

Cruising removes the need for sourcing accessible accommodation, a big bugbear for wheelchair users. Steps in the way, lifts that are too small, and doorways my wheelchair cannot squeeze through are not on the worry list. I must qualify that there are areas that non-ambulant persons with disabilities (PWDs) cannot go to such as the top deck. In my opinion, seating arrangements for PWDs in theatres on certain cruise ships are not catered to on Asian run cruise lines.

The food available on board is mind-boggling, hence the concern is over-eating rather than the meal hunting (which is an adventure in itself) needed on land excursions. People have often queried what are the things to do sailing out at sea. Well most of the time is spent drinking and dining and er… sleeping.

Then there are shows ranging from magic performances, samba dances, circus acts, ice skating extravaganzas, music from jazz to big bands to pop, K-pop to one of a kind ‘hypnotise the audience’ displays and imitating celebrities by an incredibly talented transvestite are the possibles in the itinerary each evening. More mundane dos are karaoke, towel origami, shopping, fruit art, swimming, rock-climbing, mini-golf, Jacuzzi soaking, sunbathing, read books, myriad games and the list continues.

Of course there are those that are payable if you got the cash such as arcade games, spas and massages, specialty restaurants, on board tours and pre planned shore trips, topless revues and the ubiquitous casino. The gaming area is where passengers really pay.

The ride to Marina Bay station was smooth. Disembarking and waiting for the allocated train to Marina South Pier station took more than ten minutes. The walkway to the terminal was mostly sheltered. Clearing customs proved to be similar to the experience at airports. Both people and luggage have to go through metal detectors (there was a quick body check for me), followed by passport screening and then one can proceed to the ship.

A slight kerb in between doorways

A slight kerb in between doorways

Having booked and paid online for the disabled accessible lodging, a cruise personnel scanned and allotted a type of credit card to each passenger as a system to pay for purchases on the sail. All along, the gangway was accessible except for a few bumps at joints in the corridor. We had hand carried bags while the heavier luggage was checked in and delivered outside our cabin door a while later. After a quick unpacking of sparing essentials, we were off to the cafeteria style eating. As usual, there was an overwhelming array of choices including the beverages.

A view of the washroom

Wheelchair-friendly toilet

The first evening on a cruise is the safety drill much like the video at the start of a plane flight. For this instance, knowing the place to head to in case of emergency is vital. Still, nonchalant folks taking the precautions lightly are commonplace. Dinner is offered in two time slots as it switches between two theatre show times for an interchangeable option.

Ports of call can be in a situation where it needs tendering. That means transferring to a boat to go on land, which takes the shore outing out of my list. The various destinations are Port Klang, Penang, Langkawi, Phuket(overnight) and back to Singapore. The only place my motorised wheelchair can get down was Penang. I could go down to the pier in Port Klang but there is not much to do there and transport to town was not available for my needs. The Penang port is a short walk to the city and has streets of shops and stalls.

At Langkawi, a very steep ramp discouraged me from taking the considerable risk to get to a sole souvenir shop at the ferry terminal. Phuket was only by tender. It may seem a waste not to be able to go on land but there are benefits. When a majority of passengers goes on shore, the whole ship seems deserted. Restaurant staff cater to your whims and other venues evoke the feeling of exclusivity accorded to celebrities and VVIPs. The swimming pools and jacuzzis are not crowded out, and leisure strolls hand in hand with your loved one is a most satisfying activity.

One has full awareness that such moments in time like this are the stuff dreams are made of. It is after all, a vacation away from the stresses of city living and materialistic pursuits of Singapore society.

TIP: This ship has room service during the day and food is allowed in the cabin, which is much-appreciated for a PWD. Breakfast in bed is a luxury as it shortens sitting periods and delays the tiredness of a long day.

Gilbert Tan is a member of the Disabled People’s Association. He is a writer and an artist who actively participates in community work. His works can be found on his website: http://www.gilberttan.com. He has recently published a book called, ‘Hospitales: theatre of another kind’ that recounts his 11 month-long hospital stay. 

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.

S.E.A. Aquarium: Accessibility For Persons with Disabilities

By Jorain Ng

On 23 January 2015, my organisation – the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) – paid a visit to S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.

As with all other events, this outing was organised for our members, including our institutional members. But this outing was especially significant because it marked DPA’s first collaboration with the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). ANZ had kindly sponsored the tickets and also volunteered manpower on the day. The turnout was overwhelming, with a total of 135 participants from ANZ, Down Syndrome Association, Singapore Association for the Deaf and DPA.

Apart from giving our members an opportunity to have fun and socialise, the purpose of this visit was also to review the accessibility of the attraction. Touted to be the world’s largest aquarium, with streams of tourists from around the world, we felt it necessary that the attraction is accessible for all. And so, at the end of our visit, we conducted an informal feedback session on our members’ experiences.

This blog post records our findings and recommendations for improvements.

Overall Experience

Glass tube at the aquarium

Walking through the glass tube. Photo credit: Raymond Lee.

Everyone had a great time exploring the marine world. The sights were simply spectacular and other-worldly!

Walking through the glass tube, we were enchanted by the many fishes, of different colours, sizes and species, swimming around us. Moving deeper into the aquarium, we also saw bottenose dolphins, hammerhead sharks, mantra rays and many other animals. And let’s not forget about the luminous jellyfish glowing aquariums! Many of us were captivated by the different species of jellyfish pursing through the water. We were also mesmerised by the Open Ocean Tank or Ocean Dome. The large tank houses glittering schools of fishes, sharks, manta rays and many others, giving viewers a glimpse into marine life.

There is no doubt that everyone at DPA, and I believe other members from ANZ, DSA and SADeaf as well, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

But the aquarium could be made more enjoyable for persons with disabilities. The following sections detail our feedback and suggestions to improve the accessibility of S.E.A. Aquarium.

Getting to S.E.A. Aquarium

DPA members did not face any difficulty getting to the aquarium. Some used specialised transport like a wheelchair-accessible taxi or bus, while others travelled on the MRT and bus to get to the attraction.

But finding the main entrance was not easy because the Entrance signboard is small and hard to spot, especially for persons with low vision.

DPA suggests adding footprint markers on the ground to lead visitors to the aquarium. It would also be helpful to have an Information / Visitors Support Desk where visitors can ask for directions to the aquarium, the lifts and wheelchair accessible toilets. Alternatively, the management could deploy trained staff at different locations inside and outside at the entrance of the aquarium to direct visitors.

Inside the Aquarium

The aquarium was a little too dark for comfort. Persons with low vision may face difficulty getting around the aquarium. Deep sea creatures may be sensitive to light, so a possible solution to this safely hazard is to add sidelights in poorly lit areas and have luminous graphical or text signs on the ground to guide visitors. This would not only aid persons with low vision, but other persons without disabilities as well.

There is also the issue of sudden steep slopes along the pathways. Manual wheelchair users might find it hard to climb the steep slopes. DPA suggests replacing the steep slopes with gentler ones. Again, this change would benefit not just wheelchair users, but also the elderly, children, and visitors with baby strollers.

Due to the throngs of visitors flocking to the front of every aquarium and exhibit, wheelchair users were not able to see much or had to wait for the visitors to leave.

To stem such inconsiderate behaviour, the management of the aquarium could deploy staff members at strategic locations to ensure that visitors give way to wheelchair users. This way, everyone gets a chance to see the sea creatures, not someone else’s back or head.

Wheelchair users also faced difficulty reading the information plaques of the various sea creatures. The plaques were either positioned too low or too high (i.e. above or below their eye level). The management could consider repositioning the various signages / information at a comfortable eye-level for wheelchair users.

As a visual spectacular that relies heavily on sight, it is hard to imagine how persons with visual impairment can enjoy the aquarium. Nothing is designed in a way that can help them enjoy the marine world. There are no tactile ground surface indicators to help them navigate around the aquarium independently, nor are there any braille text describing the different sea creatures.

Life-size replica at River Safari.

Life-size replica of snapping turtle at River Safari.

To help improve the experience of persons with visual impairment, the management could add the aforementioned features to their aquarium. The management could also follow the footsteps of River Safari. River Safari helps persons with visual impairment visualise the animals by providing life-size replicas for them to touch and feel. Alternatively, the aquarium could develop an app (using GPS technology) to be used as a map/guide to give audio information about the exhibits/sea creatures.

Others (lifts, toilets & emergency protocol)

It was not easy to find the lifts as there were no lift signs. This caused great inconvenience to wheelchair users and their caregivers. The management could add lift signs around the aquarium or provide maps indicating the locations of lifts and toilets. Once again, this would benefit everyone – the elderly, children and adults – not just wheelchair users.

The aquarium has wheelchair accessible toilets. But like any other toilets in Singapore, there are a few inconsiderate persons without disabilities using them – a sure sign that Singapore needs more public education campaigns.

Finally, the aquarium lacks information on how persons with disabilities can escape the aquarium in the event of an emergency. Understandably, such emergency information are rarely provided at tourist attractions, but it is good practice to start doing so. The information can be posted at their website or at other notable areas of the attraction.

Conclusion

Despite these accessibility issues, all members happily chimed that they would recommend the visit to other persons with disabilities. DPA would love to visit the aquarium again, and extends our sincere gratitude to ANZ, SADeaf, DSA and S.E.A. Aquarium management.

So far, DPA has visited the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Jurong Bird Park and now S.E.A. Aquarium. Are there other places you think DPA should visit and provide a review on its accessibility? Let me know in the comments below!

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).