Forum: Gaps in efforts to support those with special needs

I am heartened that Covid-19 has raised public awareness of and prompted more government efforts on supporting those with special needs. However, autistic people like myself still encounter difficult situations.

For example, while queueing for food, I was told by a stall employee to wear my mask. I displayed my Developmental Disability Registry Identity (DDR-ID) card, but the stall manager insisted I wear a mask.

Safe distancing ambassadors came. When I showed them my DDR-ID card, they allowed me to leave my mask off, but did not explain the situation to other people around me.

I always wear a mask when going out, removing it temporarily for brief periods only, when it gets too uncomfortable. Yet I usually can't get through five minutes without there being a commotion. This shows the need to plug gaps in public dissemination of information on those with special needs.

Mayor Denise Phua, in her recent Parliament speech, advocated plugging gaps in support of persons with disabilities, who are equal members of society.

As an autistic advocate, I suggest the Ministry of Social and Family Development paste posters in prominent places, educating people how to show understanding towards those with special needs.

While I believe safe distancing ambassadors were briefed to show flexibility to such people, they need additional training to educate the public and mediate when misunderstandings arise. Otherwise, they get caught in between those with special needs and people who may wrongly accuse them for not enforcing the rules - an undesirable situation for ambassadors who should be commended for doing their work.

I also urge the Government to educate staff in the food and beverage industry so as to prevent misunderstandings with special needs customers. Likewise, I urge those with autism and their caregivers to be an advocate for themselves in public when they feel misunderstood.

Everyone should play his part in building an inclusive nation, all the more so in this unprecedented crisis. With kindness and compassion towards the lost, the least and the last, we can "do so much more to build a Singapore that is fairer, more equal and more inclusive", to quote from Education Minister Lawrence Wong's Purple Parade 2020 speech.

Wesley Loh