Don't let inclusion be an illusion

Singapore ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013.

Three years on, inclusion continues to elude us. Only 8 per cent polled in a recent survey feel that Singaporeans are willing to go the extra mile to make a child with special needs feel welcome ("S'poreans 'don't walk the talk' on special needs kids"; May 31).

Six in 10 people with disabilities do not feel they are socially included ("People with disabilities in the spotlight"; last Friday). Just one-third of the general public polled are fine with being close friends with a person with disabilities.

What does the suggestion that deaf people wear an "I am disabled" tag for our convenience say about our consideration of their dignity and rights ("Foodcourt cleaner yelled at by woman plans to quit"; Tuesday)?

I have learnt much from the deaf partners who lead at the Hush silent teabar that I founded.

They have a strong sense of identity and do not necessarily see themselves as "disabled".

One of them even challenged that if I used "hearing impaired" to describe them, she would have to, similarly, call me "deaf impaired".

Indeed, if the service experience is designed with them and silence in mind, where is their disability? Who is "disabled"?

Because the primary mode of communication in our society is one of spoken words, the hearing and the deaf are insular from each other.

More than 80 per cent of the 1,300 participants at Hush interacted with the deaf for the first time.

There are about a million deaf people in Singapore. The deaf are a significant part of our community and they have every right to full inclusion and participation in our society.

A community that excludes even one member is no community at all. We can legislate diversity but we can only educate inclusion.

Inclusion starts with us, not with government policies or the "other party". Recently, my hearing team and I learnt to sign, so that we can be less "deaf impaired".

Anthea Ong Lay Theng (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'Don't let inclusion be an illusion'. Print Edition | Subscribe