Forum: Empower people with disabilities to stand as equals

A man in wheelchair on path along Bedok North Road on Oct 2, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

It is encouraging that Singapore is taking steps to include and support the community of people with disabilities in tangible ways (New accreditation for firms hiring people with disabilities, Oct 9).

One gap that has yet to be addressed is that of enabling people with disabilities to make a living from providing services to support their community.

These can range from professional services such as occupational and speech therapy, peer support services such as those from counsellors and adult educators, as well as other useful services such as remote IT support and video production.

Many of us understand inclusion as a dependent relationship where abled people are responsible for supporting people with disabilities and integrating them into mainstream society.

People with disabilities are seen as being unable to contribute meaningfully to determine their future; plans, training and initiatives are undertaken by abled people on their behalf.

I propose shifting to a relationship of inclusive equality, where both abled and disabled people work together as equal partners to create change - with the Government forming a quadripartite alliance with service providers (including employers), caregivers and disabled people.

One possible model we can study is the National Council of Social Service's Peer Support Specialist Programme, which provides professional training for supporting those with mental health conditions.

Another model, pioneered by the WhatsApp Autism Community Singapore, is a ground-up initiative by people with disabilities to use community service as a means to build up their leadership capabilities and demonstrate inclusive equality.

I appeal to the Government to include inclusive equality as one of the key thrusts in the fourth edition of the Enabling Masterplan, and formulate policies that empower those with disabilities to stand as equals with everyone else - including being paid service providers supporting everyone within their community.

Eric Chen Yixiong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2020, with the headline Forum: Empower people with disabilities to stand as equals. Subscribe