The third masterplan to guide the development of policies and programmes for the disabled in Singapore should, of course, build on the achievements of the two previous five-year plans. The challenge now, as in 2007, when the first Enabling Masterplan was produced, remains the aspiration to make the country an inclusive society where the disabled can enjoy the opportunity to contribute fully to society. The second masterplan further developed previous initiatives in early intervention, education, employment, residential care and caregiver support. Public involvement will be critical if the third masterplan is to shape an ambitious vision that can help more of the disabled bustle about in the corridors of life here.
Clearly, the fundamental ability to access physical infrastructure, such as MRT stations and public buildings, must remain a key benchmark of enabling masterplans. Economic access is also essential because, without this, the disabled can never disprove the tacit sentiment that they are a financial burden on society. The Ministry of Social and Family Development tries to encourage employers to look on disabled applicants with greater favour through schemes that give Singapore-based or registered companies funding support to hire, train and integrate them.
The disabled will have a chance to grow more as new modules are developed for them in SkillsFuture, which raises skill levels and promotes lifelong learning. Tailoring the skills of the disabled to the needs of employers will help them to survive in a market economy, which no employee expects to be a charity. Realising the potential of disabled workers will add also to Singapore's small labour pool as it pursues its desire to be a smart nation. Indeed, in virtual work environments, physical disabilities would be irrelevant.
More care will also have to be devoted to caregivers, who often have to ignore their own need for support as they bear the material and psychological pressures of looking after the disabled.
For official assistance schemes to take off, social mindsets will have to change as well. Nominated Member of Parliament Chia Yong Yong's recent call for more efforts to raise awareness of the disabled deserves support. In a parliamentary speech that was justly applauded, she drew attention to the barriers that separate the disabled from the rest of society. It is not that Singaporeans do not care: Often the challenges of mobility and social interaction faced by the disabled are not plainly seen by others who simply cannot understand what it is to be on the other side of the divide. The parliamentarian, who was diagnosed with peroneal muscular atrophy in her teens, shows how far the disabled can travel in a city that aspires to become a more inclusive nation. It is hoped that her example will inspire the development of a bolder masterplan.