Panel calls for national office for disabled people

To coordinate various initiatives to meet the needs of disabled people, experts have suggested setting up a dedicated office comprising relevant government agencies.
To coordinate various initiatives to meet the needs of disabled people, experts have suggested setting up a dedicated office comprising relevant government agencies. PHOTO: ST FILE

To coordinate various initiatives to meet the needs of disabled people, experts have suggested setting up a dedicated office comprising relevant government agencies.

This office would oversee efforts ranging across sectors such as education, health and social services.

This was one of 20 recommendations made by an expert panel in the latest Enabling Masterplan, a national blueprint for disability services for next year until 2021.

It builds on the progress made through the first two blueprints, and was released yesterday after the panel consulted more than 400 people over eight months.

Panel chief Anita Fam, vice-president of the National Council of Social Service, said the previous road maps focused more on "meeting specific needs" of disabled people, namely early intervention, education and employment.

"This time, we took a person-centred approach... A person with disability has health, education and social service needs. If we can address them holistically, it would be better for the person," she said.

Hence, the recommendations focus on areas such as supporting disabled people as they transit across different life stages, such as from school to work, and improving coordination across various sectors.

This is also why the panel called for a disability office to be set up.

While the panel did not elaborate on what form this office could take, some members aired a personal view that it could be parked under the Prime Minister's Office, rather than under a single ministry.

Panel member Denise Phua, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, suggested that the office could be led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.

Ms Phua said: "It would be useful in ensuring that people with special needs are not footnotes but remain in the main chapters of the Singapore story, and they are included in mainstream policies too."

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong, president of disability charity SPD, said: "I would like it to be a high- level office, perhaps with more autonomy than just coordinating work."

The panel also called for stronger partnerships so that service providers can reap economies of scale. For instance, service providers could provide home care to both the elderly and the disabled, based on location instead of the clientele group.

The panel also proposed more support for caregivers, more opportunities for interaction between students in mainstream and special education schools, and involving employers earlier in the job training process. The Ministry of Social and Family Development will study the report and respond in due course.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Panel calls for national office for disabled people'. Print Edition | Subscribe