Attitudes to people with disabilities need to change

I read with interest the report on the sentencing of a person with an intellectual disability (Teen's intellectual disability raises issue on lack of sentencing options: Judge; March 13), and I echo the views of earlier writers (Law's treatment of persons with disabilities needs to change, March 18; and Seek public views in review of criminal justice system, March 19).

As various reports of the case note, the prosecution's view was that the boy was not suitable for reformative training because it judged him as lacking the intellectual capacity to understand the programmes.

This is extremely worrying for me as a disability studies scholar. This argument centres on the idea that people's bodily differences prevent them from receiving the same treatment as others who are in a similar situation.

The question that begs to be asked is this - is disability the problem, or is society's inability to cater to people of diverse abilities the issue?

To make things clearer, an example from history is useful.

When Disabled Peoples' International and Disabled People's Association were formed in Singapore in the 1980s, a lot of advocacy was done to change the attitudes in society so as to effect the inclusion of disabled people.

Much of this advocacy was in the area of physical accessibility. The basis of these arguments was that we needed to remake society so that people with disabilities could have equal access to places as everyone else.

Why can't we do the same for our disciplinary and educational regimes?

An inclusive society means not just creating accessible spaces, but also accessible social structures and changed attitudes towards disability.

Zhuang Kuansong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Attitudes to people with disabilities need to change'. Print Edition | Subscribe