singapore

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.

DSC06013

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.

zBarney.JPG

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. 

What It Should Have Been: Edition #6

By Jorain Ng

I can’t believe this but we’re now into Round Six of DPA’s public education initiative on proper terminology to describe persons with disabilities. Let’s hope this segment will end by the tenth edition. (For first-time readers, find out more here.)

*****

Channel News Asia, 10 August 2015
Abuse cases involving disabled go largely unreported: Social workers

Original:
The entire article, including the headline, contain words like disabled or disabled people.

Amended:
The more appropriate term is people with disabilities.

Why?
It is only respectful to refer to people with disabilities as individuals first.

SG Enable says: People with disabilities are individuals first. Their disabling condition or conditions are only one part of who they are. So as far as possible, refer to the person first, then the disability.

*****

Channel News Asia, 24 August 2015
Minds students do their bit for society

Original:
The visit is part of a Minds push to get its students and beneficiaries – from Minds homes, and employment and training centres – to contribute to society, and also to integrate and socialise with able-bodied volunteers through school or corporate pairings.

Amended:
The visit is part of a Minds push to get its students and beneficiaries – from Minds homes, and employment and training centres – to contribute to society, and also to integrate and socialise with volunteers without disabilities through school or corporate pairings.

Why?
The opposite of “people with disabilities” is not “able-bodied” or “abled”. These terms suggest that people with disabilities are not “able”.

*****

Straits Times, 17 September 2015
Inclusive gym that caters for folk with disabilities

Original:
The entire article uses terms such as deaf and blind people, able-bodied friends, and visually handicapped.

Amended:
The more appropriate terms are people with a visual disability, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, friends without disabilities, and people with a visual disability. 

Why?
As above, please use people-first language to refer to people with disabilities respectfully and appropriately, and avoid using terms like “able-bodied” to refer to people who do not have a disability. The term “handicapped” is also an outdated or offensive term because it implies that persons with disabilities have an imposed disadvantage.

*****

Straits Times, 28 September 2015
Rules on parking labels for disabled set to be tightened

Original:
The entire article, including the headline, is peppered by words such as the disabled, able-bodied, disabled drivers, disabled passengers.

Amended:
The more appropriate terms are people with disabilities, people without disabilities, drivers with disabilities and passengers with disabilities.

Why?
Again, people with disabilities are individuals first. So please refer to them as such.

*****

Here are more examples of incorrect terminologies found in Singapore’s local newspapers: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4 and Part 5. But local newspapers are not the only ones I found using inappropriate terminologies. I’ve caught international news channel like BBC News using words like “wheelchair bound” and “disabled person”. Take, for example, the following news articles by BBC News:

BBC News, 19 October 2015
Model role for teenager with spinal disorder

Original:
She underwent a six-hour operation to prevent the condition from making her wheelchair-bound.

Amended:
She underwent a six-hour operation to prevent the condition from making her non-ambulant.

Why?
This error has appeared in examples in previous columns so far, and has been explained too.  Avoid terms such as “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”. Rather, say that a person “uses a wheelchair” or a “wheelchair user”. But since the article is describing how a model underwent an operation to treat her severe spinal disorder so that she can continue to walk, the term “non-ambulant” would be more appropriate.

*****

BBC News, 6 October 2015
Has America already had a female president?

Original:
As well as tending to her wheelchair-bound husband and campaigning on his behalf, Eleanor also pursued her own interests.

Amended:
As well as tending to her wheelchair-user husband and campaigning on his behalf, Eleanor also pursued her own interests.

Why?
As above.

DPA emailed the editors at BCC News regarding this article and  received a reply from them stating that their writers follow a set of guidelines dealing specifically with how to respectfully address persons with disabilities. While it is puzzling how those terms make it through the editing process, DPA was glad that the editors have admitted their mistake, sharing with us their house style and amending the article.

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.

Introduction to the Deafblind

by Jan Evans

“The best thing is that I’m alive”

So said Satoshi Fukushima in a fascinating and moving 28 minute video shown at SADeaf’s excellent “Introduction to the Deafblind” Workshop on Saturday, 13 June 2015.  Satoshi lost his hearing at 9 yrs old and his sight at 18 yrs.  At that latter point in his life, he admits he “hit rock bottom” then came to realise that there was purpose in his hardship and suffering and “climbed out of the pit”. Now a leading advocate of the Deafblind in Japan, Dr Fukushima is currently Professor at Tokyo University Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology. His research specialities include social and psychological aspects of deafblind people.

It almost goes without saying that I was introduced to a new world last Saturday. The workshop was run by Lisa Loh, an energetic 20-something who is deaf and has Retinitis Pigmentosa: She is able to see less and less in her peripheral vision and knows that in time the rest of her sight will follow. Lisa explained the different causes and levels of deafblindness and the different types of communication. The Deafblind communicate through touch (Braille, Tactile Signing or Finger Braille).  I was awestruck to hear that Satoshi’s mother, Reiko, developed Finger Braille “because there was no Braille typewriter in the kitchen” and amused to hear her casual aside to him “You could have been more enthusiastic”!

The workshop included a simulation of deafblindness.  We paired off, one person being the deafblind person (donning a triple layered eyemask and very thick headphones/ear defenders), the other was the Interpreter Guide (IG – who communicates with and leads the deafblind person). Then we swapped roles. One guided route took us up and down stairways and along winding corridors; the other had us sampling (by touch) various objects.  Your comfort level very much depended on the trust you had in your IG. The experience was telling and I am sure you can imagine the feelings of isolation and helplessness. The role of IG proved more demanding especially when I was teamed up with someone who was deaf/hard of hearing where any meaningful communication was by fingerspelling Roman letters on the palm (note to self – it doesn’t work sideways) or tactile sign writing (no – I don’t know how to do that properly either). I thank my deaf/HOH partners for their grace and forbearance – and good humour.

Satoshi_Fukushima2I was interested to learn that Dr Fukushima has spearheaded quite an influential deafblind movement in Japan. Lisa has met a number of deafblind IGs there: 50% of them had experience as Sign Language Interpreters, just less than 50% as Blind Guides and the remaining small percentage had no experience at all. Most IGs in Japan are NOT related to the deaf blind person which facilitates more independence.

So what of Singapore?

We have all heard stories about well-intentioned passers-by “helping” those who are blind/visually impaired across the street …when they didn’t want to go!  However this situation would not occur with a deafblind person.  It is inevitable that there will be an accompanying IG.

There are about 13 Deafblind people known to Lisa: 7 are registered with SADeaf/SAVH.  There are probably more.  In Japan, an estimated 22,000 people are both deaf and blind.

IGs for the Deafblind in Singapore tend to be family members but they need a rest occasionally.  There may be formal provision for Befrienders to take deafblind people to a hospital appointment or church service but the Deafblind still have difficulty accessing leisure activities.

To learn more about SADeaf’s deafblind workshops please go to SADeaf’s website at http://sadeaf.org.sg/ – I understand Lisa will be conducting a 3rd “Introduction to  the Deafblind” workshop at the end of this year which, no doubt, SADeaf will advertise nearer the time. I commend it.

Jan Evans is a volunteer at Disabled People’s Association, Singapore. 

Three Easy Steps to Apply for Open Door Programme

By Jorain Ng

Applying for the Open Door Programme (ODP) is easy. I have successfully applied for the scheme and managed to get a lighter laptop for work thanks to the 90% subsidy .

Unfortunately, not many companies are tapping onto this scheme because 1) they are not aware of the scheme; 2) they do not know how to go about applying for the ODP; or 3) they think it’s too troublesome.

By penning down my experience, I hope to encourage companies who have hired or are interested in hiring persons with disabilities to familarise themselves with the ODP and apply for the scheme.

Step 1: Speak to your employee 

Persons with disabilities may require some form of adaptation or accommodation to assist them to overcome obstacles in their work environment, such as wheelchair access in a narrow office space. Hence you should speak to your employee about the accommodation(s) they might require to perform their job efficiently.

Do bear in mind that people with the same disability may have different needs and thus require different types of accommodation. So it is always good to ask, and never assume that what is appropriate for one will be appropriate for another.

If your employee is not sure about the type of workplace accommodation he/she requires, seek advice from SG Enable or their job placement/support officer and/or social worker (if they have one). SG Enable may perform a site visit to evaluate their job and work environment so that they can make the best recommendation.

Step 2: Contact SG Enable for information on application process

Contact SG Enable and provide them the following details:

  • employee’s disability;
  • employee’s job duties;
  • type of accommodation required.

An employment specialist will then advise you and provide the relevant information on how you can tap the funding and support under the ODP. SG Enable may also request to perform a site visit and require you to fill out more paperwork.

I only requested for a subsidy to purchase a lighter laptop so the application process was really straightforward. All my supervisor needed to do was submit a formal email request that included a description of my disability, purchase rationale and justification, and the cost of the equipment.

Step 3: Wait for SG Enable’s approval

Depending on the nature of your request, the reply from SG Enable may take a few days. So be patient.

In my case, SG Enable replied with an attached application form in their email. They requested that my employer submit the application form along with the original copy of the receipt so that they can reimburse DPA accordingly. The disbursement period took around 6 months.

Based on my personal experience, those three steps are all it takes to apply for the ODP.

The process may be longer and more complicated for other funding programs such as the apprenticeship program and capability development funding. But do remember that SG Enable is always willing and able to provide companies funding support to make their workplace more inclusive for persons with disabilities.

Have you applied for the ODP? Was it successful? Did you find the process easy or cumbersome? Let us know in the comments below!

Disablist Bullying at Schools

By Jorain Ng

The connection between bullying and disability is rarely talked about in Singapore.

The flurry of articles on bullying (and more recently cyberbullying) at schools do not focus on disablism – the bullying or discrimination against persons with disabilities. Yet, there are much anecdotal accounts testifying to its existence at schools.

Personal Experience

As a child, I had my fair share of bullying, just like others who look different and/or behave differently from the masses.

I can vividly recall days when a classmate hid her arm in a pinafore to imitate my physical appearance. Simple actions such as tying my hair also attracted unwanted attention from my classmate who made physical gestures behind my back. Even back home, I was not safe from bullies. Online, I received anonymous comments on my blog (blog was still a thing back then) like, “you have no arm. hahaha.”

Looking back, these incidents are no more than childish pranks done by kids who were being, well, kids.

But, to a young child, such incidents can be emotionally traumatising.

The Situation in Singapore

Two boys pulling the hair of a girlSadly, my experience is not uncommon.

In Singapore today, bullying is as rampant as it was back then.

As a matter of fact, studies show that the advent of technology only made bullying worse. According to a 2012 survey conducted by Microsoft, Singapore has the second highest rate of online bullying. A 2013 Touch Cyber Wellness Survey of 1,900 primary school students and 3,000 secondary school pupils revealed that one in three of the latter population had been bullied online.

The scary news does not end there.

Many studies have demonstrated that children with disabilities are significantly more likely than their peers to be victims of bullying. A British study conducted in 2008 found that 60 percent of students with disabilities reported being bullied compared to 25 percent of the general student population. 10 U.S. studies also found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their peers without disabilities.

Disablist Bullying Consequences

The effects of bullying in relation to the emotional well-being, self-esteem, health condition, academic achievement and retaliatory violence of victims have all been well documented. Children who are bullied may suffer from depression and anxiety, and develop negative self-perceptions and health issues. Some victims also perform poorly in school due to difficulties concentrating during lessons, school avoidance or absences.

But there are unique concerns regarding disablist bullying.

Children with disabilities and/or special needs often have great difficulty defending themselves against bullies. Those who have physical disabilities such as wheelchair users and people with cerebral palsy may lack the physical strength to defend themselves. Bullies may tamper with a student’s wheelchair or walking stick, intentionally put up barriers, making movement around space difficult, or intentionally bump into them.

Children with developmental disabilities may also face difficulty defending themselves. Some may lack the cognitive ability to distinguish between real friends and bullies.

Disablist Bullying Prevention

Since so much bullying takes place while children are at school, teachers and administrators must take an active role in preventing bullying.

Other than bullying awareness programs, disability awareness talks should be conducted at schools to foster an attitude of respect for persons with disabilities. Teachers must also be equipped with the training and tools to recognise and quickly intervene in bullying situations. Schools can also create an online portal for students to give feedback – a particularly helpful feature for students who are afraid to speak up for themselves at schools.

Since children with disabilities are the most vulnerable targets, parents of these children can help to prevent bullying by communicating with their child. They should ask specific questions about his or her friendships, and be aware of signs of bullying even if their child doesn’t call it that. As mentioned above, some children with developmental disabilities may not realise they are being bullied.

Parents of bullied children must work with schools to end bullying. They need to immediately inform his or her teachers about the bullying to see whether he or she can help to resolve the problem. If the bullying or harassment is severe or the teacher doesn’t fix the problem, parents should contact the principal. They should give the principal a detailed account of the incident and ask for a prompt response.

Conclusion

Bullying is a bad thing. As Singapore move towards an inclusive education system where all children with and without disabilities can learn and play together, incidents of disablist bullying may rise in proportion.

But if schools and parents work together at all levels, there can be a resolution to bullying. I recently heard of a story where a young boy was physically harassed by his classmates because one of his parents has a disability. His parents informed his teacher about the bullying, and the teacher spoke to the bullies and their parents. The bullying stopped, and the bullies were sent to do volunteer work at social service organisations.