Why It Matters

Census to boost inclusiveness

In Singapore, people with disabilities have been an invisible population for the longest time.

When Singapore was not as disabled-friendly as it is now, one hardly saw wheelchair users out and about because of a lack of amenities in places such as the MRT stations or shopping centres. And jobs for them were hard to come by.

The lack of data and statistics on disability contributes to invisibility, says the UN Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The paucity of data hampers planning for policies and services to improve the lives of the disabled, the UN says.

But things are changing here.

In the past decade, since the first national blueprint for disability services was launched, education and services to support people with disabilities have received a great boost.

However, for years, it has been a mystery how many people with disabilities there are here. The best available estimate is from a National Council of Social Service survey in 2015, which randomly polled 2,000 citizens and permanent residents.

It found that the prevalence rate of disability was 3.4 per cent of the resident population aged 18 to 49 and 13.3 per cent for those aged 50 and older.

But the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is now working with the Department of Statistics to find out the number of people with disabilities in the next census, in 2020.

It also hopes to uncover the type of disabilities they have, their age and their household structure.

The MSF says the data will enable government agencies to plan sufficient services for the different groups of people with disabilities, among other aims.

Data helps draw attention to problems and helps to identify gaps in policies and services. Definitive data on disability is especially crucial with an ageing population (the chances of having a disability increase with age and illness) and more children are diagnosed with developmental problems like autism.

It is high time to use our first-class data-gathering capability to shake off the invisibility of disability.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2017, with the headline 'Census to boost inclusiveness'. Print Edition | Subscribe