Ground-up approach needed to create inclusive society

The Government and many voluntary welfare organisations have made unprecedented efforts to raise public awareness about people with disabilities and to support numerous similar initiatives ("More help to get jobs for people with disabilities"; Feb 27, and "New centres will help disabled be active and more confident"; June 1).

One such organisation is the Asia-Pacific Assistive, Rehabilitative and Therapeutic Technologies Network (ARTT-Network), which I founded.

ARTT-Network is a two-year-old, not-for-profit society that believes access to innovative assistive technologies can contribute immensely to a more inclusive society and unlock the vast talent of people with disabilities.

For example, eminent scientist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from motor neuron disease, uses voice-activated technology for mobility and communication.

Mr Nick Vujicic, who has no legs and arms, uses assistive technology to travel around the world and motivate many able people.

We plan to develop programmes to nurture traits of innovation and entrepreneurship among students with disabilities, so they can work with able-bodied students, perhaps to develop the next breakthrough assistive technology.

However, creating an inclusive society requires more than sound policies.

All the current efforts do not seem to have converted Singaporeans and made them "walk the talk" and accept people with special needs ("S'poreans 'don't walk the talk' on special needs kids"; May 31).

We could learn much from the success of SG50, where national pride was aroused through many ground-up programmes organised by volunteers and societies with strong passion and vision.

Adopting this ground-up approach could be the solution to convince Singaporeans to appreciate people with disabilities and that interacting naturally with them will be beneficial to all.

Bala S. Rajaratnam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Ground-up approach needed to create inclusive society'. Subscribe