Straits Times Forum

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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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

Introduce laws to protect rights of disabled people

Straits Times Forum, 16 January 2015 (print edition)

MR ONG Soon Kiat suggested ways to deter illegal parking in spaces reserved for disabled drivers (“Enforce law on handicap parking more strictly”; Dec 29).

The Disabled People’s Association agrees that more needs to be done to ensure that people who need these spaces are able to access them.

These larger parking spaces, which allow more space for disabled people to get in and out of their cars, are only for those who display the SG Enable-issued label.

The abuse of parking spaces reserved for persons with disabilities is just one example of how these people are discriminated against.

We often see the improper use of reserved seats on public transport and toilets for persons with disabilities, to name a few instances of everyday abuse by those who are selfish or simply apathetic.

To stem such inconsiderate behaviour, we call on the authorities to adopt a more holistic and effective approach to ensure that persons with disabilities are afforded the same opportunities as those without disabilities.

Singapore has taken great steps towards becoming more inclusive, yet discriminatory behaviour continues to hinder the ability of those with disabilities to properly integrate and participate in society.

Public education campaigns can only go so far towards changing people’s behaviour, and we call on the Government to implement laws to protect the rights of those with disabilities.

Such laws do not afford persons with disabilities special privileges, instead they are needed to ensure that these people have the same opportunities and protection as everyone else in Singapore.

Nicholas Aw
President
Disabled People’s Association

Special education schools should be part of national system

Straits Times Forum, 18 October 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) thanks the Ministry of Education (MOE) for addressing its concerns about the exemption of children with disabilities from the Compulsory Education Act (“Special education can’t be ‘one size fits all‘”; last Saturday).

We are not proposing that education should be “one size fits all”; rather, there should be one education system that accommodates the needs of all children here.

The DPA works with a diverse group of people with different disabilities, and recognises that no one type of learning would suit them all.

Special education schools have the expertise to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities and help them flourish, and should continue to have an integral role in Singapore’s education system, regardless of whether the MOE takes a larger governance role over them.

To reiterate the DPA’s position, we believe that children with disabilities should not be automatically exempted from compulsory education to attend special education schools. Instead, such schools should be, in some way, part of the national education system, under the ultimate governance of the MOE.

In that way, there would be no need to exempt these children from compulsory education. Those with more severe disabilities could apply for exemptions in the same way any home-schooled student would.

There is no reason why the MOE taking a greater governance role in special education would mean that the needs of children with disabilities would not be catered for.

As it is, there are a number of children with special needs in national schools, and allied educators work with teachers to support them in mainstream classes.

In this way, the MOE already cares for those with various learning styles and does not run a “one size fits all” education system.

The application of compulsory education to all children in Singapore does not mean education has to be homogenised.

The DPA is confident that the MOE can extend the national education system to welcome special education schools into that community in the future, and become one system that accommodates all children’s needs.

If MOE would like further clarification on DPA’s position or to work together to start a dialogue on how special education can be integrated into national education, we would be more than happy to do so.

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

MOE can take on larger role in special education

Straits Times Forum, 9 October 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) agrees with the points raised by Mr Wee Yeong Wei (“It’s about the kids with special needs“; last Saturday) and Mrs Leaena Tambyah (“Kids with special needs have right to education“; Tuesday).

We also agree that children with disabilities should not be automatically exempted from the Compulsory Education Act.

Although more can be done to improve the educational opportunities for children with disabilities, it is important to acknowledge what is currently being done by the Government.

We appreciate that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has started to take greater ownership over special education, working with special education (Sped) schools to develop their curricula to have markers for ensuring that the students show development from year to year.

The MOE has also been upgrading the accessibility of mainstream schools to accommodate more children with disabilities.

The ministry, along with the National Council of Social Service, provides funding for Sped schools to help with the higher cost of accommodating some special needs.

Although children with disabilities are automatically exempted from compulsory education, in practice most of them are enrolled either in mainstream schools or Sped schools.

However, there are long waiting lists for places in Sped schools. If all children with disabilities were not automatically exempted from compulsory education, there would be a legal responsibility for the Government to ensure they have a place in an educational institution, be it a mainstream school or Sped school.

One unexpected issue that arises from automatic exemption from compulsory education is how one deals with truancy at Sped schools. Because of the exemption, there is no real legal recourse for Sped schools when children fail to attend classes. If the child is covered by compulsory education and fails to attend school, his parent/guardian may be guilty of an offence.

The DPA hopes the MOE will continue to take on more roles in the governance of Sped schools, not because all such schools necessarily need greater supervision, but because all students’ education should be the ministry’s responsibility.

Despite all the good work of everyone involved in special education, one should consider the symbolic meaning of having the education of many of those with disabilities being taken care of largely by welfare organisations rather than the MOE.

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

MOE has responded here.

Wider corridors not ‘waste of space’

Straits Times Forum, 27 March 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association strongly supports the Building and Construction Authority’s new accessibility code (“Do wider corridors make sense for private projects?”; last Saturday).

Some developers have opined that wider corridors would benefit HDB dwellers and retirement-style residences more, but could be “a waste of space” in private condominiums, where heavy wheelchair traffic is “unlikely”.

Such reasoning does not stand up to scrutiny.

Generally, there is no heavy wheelchair traffic in HDB estates, hotels, malls and other public places. Yet, we rightly have mandatory guidelines on having ramps, accessible toilets and parking spaces, and wide corridors at these buildings and venues.

Such a move explicitly recognises the right of people with physical disabilities and wheelchair users to full and equal access to these places, in line with Singapore’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The fact that they are a minority group does not in any way mean they are entitled to less.

Wheelchair users, who are not only or always older people, are potential buyers of private condominium units as well. To argue that wider corridors are unnecessary discriminates against them as well as visitors who are wheelchair users.

Lastly, let us also think of other groups and situations where wider corridors would be a practical boon, such as older people with walking frames who may need caregivers alongside them, families which use strollers that accommodate two infants, and during emergencies such as fires and medical evacuations.

Nicholas Aw
President
Disabled People’s Association

What disabled students need

Straits Times Forum, 12 February 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association lauds the Singapore Management University’s initiative to support students with disabilities (“SMU to make life easier for disabled students”; last Saturday).

Diversity on our campuses should encompass disabled students.

We commend the faculty and staff at local institutes of higher learning who go the extra mile to support such students. Inclusion and acceptance by their peers play an important part too.

We have received anecdotal accounts from disabled students of their struggles with accessibility, communication and social support.

Their difficulties are not caused by their disabilities per se but in getting access to appropriate help, and are aggravated by the fragmented, ad hoc nature of existing support systems.

Sometimes, understanding and assistance were not forthcoming, and the students ended up having to figure out solutions on their own or footing the cost of the required services or facilities themselves.

In contrast, those who studied overseas have given feedback on how they benefited from the comprehensive range of free services provided by the institutions’ dedicated disability departments.

For example, note-takers or sign language interpreters are provided for deaf undergraduates in Australia. In Britain, visual and vibrating alarms are installed in the dormitory rooms of deaf students, in case of emergencies, as they sleep without wearing their hearing aids.

This is something our institutes of higher learning can emulate – a structured support system, clear and established procedures, and readily available facilities and services for students with disabilities to tap when needed.

Lastly, besides ensuring that the physical environment is accessible to students with physical disabilities, institutes of higher learning should take into account the needs of students with other disabilities such as visual impairment, hearing impairment, mental illness and autism, as well as those with multiple disabilities.

The assistance they require might be less obvious or concrete in nature, but is no less essential.

The various disability organisations, including the Disabled People’s Association, will be happy to work with institutes of higher learning on this.

Alvan Yap
Advocacy Executive
Disabled People’s Association

Misconceptions about disabled employees

Straits Times Forum, 27 November 2013 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association agrees with the key points in Monday’s article (“Enabling the disabled employee at work”).

The apprehension of employers and non-disabled employees to engage those with disabilities in the workplace stems from three main factors: lack of opportunities to interact with the disabled person; the stereotype that the person is less productive or competent than a non-disabled one; and that any workplace adjustment to accommodate the person’s needs could potentially be expensive or substantial.

All these perceived challenges are either misconceptions or more easily resolved than anticipated.

Feedback given by disabled-friendly employers has indicated that, by and large, non-disabled employees and bosses are accommodating towards their disabled colleagues and are willing to assist whenever needed. The amount of adjustment or additional effort on the part of employers also tends to be minimal.

Businesses that need help in retrofitting workplaces, obtaining special equipment or purchasing technological devices for disabled employees can tap the Open Door Fund.

We conduct an inclusion fundamentals workshop for employers. This aims to promote understanding of the diverse needs of people with disabilities and how to accommodate them in practical, sustainable and reasonable ways.

In this particular aspect, the public sector should lead by example.

Public sector jobs require candidates to declare their disabilities. It would be helpful to clarify the rationale for this and how it affects the disabled candidate’s employment chances at the application stage.

Miss Chan Lishan (“A gradual ascent from madness”; Sunday) was reported as having faced much more difficulty finding work in the public sector than in the private sector, which tends not to ask for such personal details.

This disparity is especially glaring as her experience clearly shows that her mental illness did not have any bearing on her work performance, as would be the case for most people with such conditions.

In the long run, organisations that flourish are those with good employment, health and safety policies for their employees, disabled or otherwise. Foremost among them would be a fair recruitment process based on merit and ability, and which disregards irrelevant factors such as race, age, gender, religion and disability.

Alvan Yap Boon Sheng
Advocacy Executive
Disabled People’s Association

Read the reply from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Help deaf, blind access broadcast, online media

Straits Times Forum, 15 November 2013 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association supports Mr Alfred Yeo Chi Jin’s appeal in his letter (“Reach out to deaf community with English subtitles”; Wednesday).

To meet the needs of the local deaf community, and because hearing loss is a common issue faced by the elderly – a fact especially pertinent in view of our ageing population – media providers should take the initiative to implement Mr Yeo’s suggestion on having English subtitles for TV programmes and movies.

Recent drama series and certain variety shows on MediaCorp’s Channel 8 have led the way by having dual English-Chinese subtitles.

Another option would be to use the closed captioning facility, which allows the viewer to select the caption language or to switch it off entirely.

Closed captioning also enables the profoundly deaf to understand better what they are watching as it includes text descriptions of sounds such as “car engine splutters” and “jazzy music plays”.

The use of closed captioning has been around for decades and is common in countries like Australia, Britain and the United States where such access is mandated by law.

As Singapore takes pride in keeping ahead of the technology curve and is also well on its way to an all-digital media environment, it should be more than feasible to roll out such services for TV programmes within a reasonable timeframe.

Similarly, videos uploaded online by government ministries, local organisations, educational institutions and companies should include subtitles, or, failing that, transcripts. Accessibility of online media for the blind is another area which requires more awareness and work.

Singapore has come a long way in improving accessibility for its citizens and residents with disabilities.

But while we have done well in providing facilities which are more tangible and come easily to public consciousness, such as ramps and lifts for wheelchair users, we need to keep in mind, too, the less visible needs of the deaf and the blind communities in accessing information via broadcast and online media.

Alvan Yap Boon Sheng
Advocacy Executive
Disabled People’s Association

Read the replies from Starhub, MediaCorp and Media Development Authority.

Make another Tuesday giving day

Straits Times Forum, 26 October 2013 (print edition)

MR THOMAS Tan, in his letter (“What special day of giving means”; Thursday), explained that GivingTuesdaySG “is a special date for celebrating important causes”.

He cited Earth Day and International Children’s Day as similar community-oriented days observed by the public at large.

I have no doubt of the good intentions and aspirations behind GivingTuesdaySG, and agree that it is imperative for everyone who is able, to give back to society.

Unfortunately, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) has chosen to mark GivingTuesdaySG on Dec 3, which is the day of the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).

The IDPD is a long-established event which has its origins in the International Year for Disabled Persons in 1981, the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1982 and the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons 1983-1992.

The United Nations Enable website states IDPD “aims to promote a better understanding of disability issues with a focus on the rights of persons with disabilities”.

As such, NVPC’s intention to turn Dec 3 into “Singapore’s greatest giving day” might detract from the special significance of the day that has been specifically set aside by the UN for persons with disabilities since 1992.

In addition, IDPD is not about charity or giving back to society. Rather, it is about raising awareness and promoting acceptance of persons with disabilities among us.

As there is little synergy between these two events, I respectfully urge the NVPC to consider changing the date to another Tuesday.

Nicholas Aw
President
Disabled People’s Association

Read NVPC’s reply.