Call for closer tie-ups to engage those with disabilities

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and his wife Chang Hwee Nee with pupils from Lighthouse School, which provides special education to children with visual impairment and hearing loss. The pupils sang at a fund-raising dinner for the Singapore Associati
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and his wife Chang Hwee Nee with pupils from Lighthouse School, which provides special education to children with visual impairment and hearing loss. The pupils sang at a fund-raising dinner for the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Singapore's growing elderly population means there will be more demand for support services for people at risk of age-related visual problems, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He was speaking at a fund-raising dinner for the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), where he urged volunteers, companies and donors to forge closer partnerships in building a caring and inclusive society for people with disabilities.

Citing a 2015 National Council of Social Service study, he said more than a third of respondents reported that they would be hesitant to employ those with disabilities.

"However, the survey also found that public attitudes towards persons with disabilities were better with a higher frequency of contact," Mr Heng said in a speech at the Mandarin Orchard hotel.

Only an estimated five out of every 100 people with disabilities here are employed, The Straits Times reported last month.

Another way to meet growing needs is for SAVH to expand its services, Mr Heng said.

The voluntary welfare organisation (VWO), which marks its 68th anniversary this year, provides services such as rehabilitation and training to its 4,000 clients. Half of its beneficiaries are aged 61 and above, while 70 per cent are at least 51 years old.

Apart from support facilities such as a low-vision clinic, which provides devices that can help to maximise a person's remaining vision, SAVH helps to train those with visual problems to move around more freely and independently, said Mr Heng.

Currently, more than 95 per cent of bus stops and public buses in Singapore are wheelchair-accessible, and all public buses are targeted to be so by 2020, he noted.

Apart from individual volunteers, companies can also play their part by engaging actively in corporate social responsibility efforts, such as by supporting SAVH and its clients, said Mr Heng.

The Government will also continue to play an enabling role in supporting philanthropy and volunteerism, he added.

Under the Bicentennial Community Fund announced during the recent Budget, dollar-for-dollar matching will be provided for donations made to Institutions of a Public Character this year. This is on top of the existing 250 per cent tax deduction on qualifying donations.

SAVH president Choo Chek Siew said the VWO has achieved much over the last four years, including the creation of a new skills training centre to increase the employability of its clients and a day care centre for the elderly who are visually impaired.

It has also produced four short educational videos on proper guiding techniques for sighted volunteers and family caregivers, which will be aired at public places to help with education efforts, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'Call for closer tie-ups to engage those with disabilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe