Go beyond charitable show of inclusion

In its efforts to help those with autism, the Government should also devote its resources to building "heartware" to encourage inclusion. Hardware alone is insufficient (Helping autistic students ease into real world; Sept 28).

I suggest a three-pronged approach for this.

First, the Government should set an example by hiring people with disabilities on their competitive merits and requiring its contractors to do the same. This will also raise the wages of those with disabilities, who often have little choice but to take on jobs with exploitative pay.

Having 270 disabled people out of the 145,000 public-sector employees in 2016 was a good start. Let us grow and publicise this number to send a strong message to private-sector employers.

Second, the Government should pass laws against discrimination, especially forbidding insurance companies and employers from denying applications automatically because of a declared disability.

This will encourage those with invisible disabilities, such as people with autism, to advocate for their community.

Third, the Government should grant full scholarships to people with disabilities to allow them to pursue their dreams and careers, conditional on them serving a bond to help their own community. Empowering the disabled to help themselves promotes true inclusiveness.

However, barriers such as money stand in the way.

For instance, obtaining a basic degree will cost more than $15,000. Although the SkillsFuture Study Award and credits can offset $5,500 of the tuition fee, the remainder is still a huge burden for the underemployed. In addition, some people with disabilities have executive dysfunction issues that make it impossible for them to work and study at the same time, further compounding the situation.

My advice to those who wish to make a difference is: Go beyond doing charity, promoting awareness and symbolic displays of inclusion. Start empowering those with disabilities to achieve their dreams while helping their community.

Dino Trakakis

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2018, with the headline 'Go beyond charitable show of inclusion'. Print Edition | Subscribe