Singaporeans who are disadvantaged and disabled should be viewed not merely as people in need of help, but as members of society who can make meaningful contributions, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
"Our society should value every person, no matter who he is, what he was born with, or without, because every person matters to us," he said at a dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of SPD, formerly the Society for the Physically Disabled.
How Singapore takes care of those with disabilities will show whether it is a "democracy of deeds or a democracy of words", he added, quoting former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam.
Groups like SPD play a vital role in providing social support, even as the Government steps up to do more, Mr Lee said in his speech at the Fullerton Hotel.
Such community groups mobilise passionate volunteers, raise funds from the community, tackle real problems of specific groups in need and strengthen the bonds among people.
But beyond these tangible benefits, the groups are also a reminder of what Singapore should aspire to be: a place where "every Singaporean counts" and where the disabled or less privileged inspire others "with their grit, determination and passion", he said.
Mr Lee cited examples such as 28-year-old sailor Jovin Tan, who was born with cerebral palsy and went on to win Singapore's first- ever gold medal at the Asean Paralympic Games last month together with teammate Yap Qian Yin.
The 200-strong SPD has done much to empower some 4,700 people with special needs and physical disabilities, Mr Lee said.
It helps them pursue their studies and passions, provides rehabilitation and day care, trains them for jobs and supports them in their employment.
On the Government's part, it has launched a series of measures to help those who are disadvantaged and disabled, he added.
These include the Enabling Masterplan - a blueprint on programmes for people with disabilities - and extending MediShield to cover children born with congenital and neonatal conditions.
The Government is also improving special education schools, giving more support to early intervention services for pre-school children, and helping people with disabilities get around by enhancing physical access and offering transport subsidies.
These moves help ensure that those with disabilities can lead a dignified life and have opportunities to succeed, said Mr Lee.
One role model he singled out is SPD president and Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong, who has peroneal muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. Mr Lee said he is confident Ms Chia will inspire others with disabilities to contribute to society.
In her speech at the dinner, Ms Chia, a corporate lawyer, applauded the government initiatives, but said community efforts would achieve a greater effect and prove more sustainable in the long run.
She also urged those with disabilities to do their part to make their own lives better so they, too, can contribute to society. "We must take responsibility for the good that we have received and we must learn to give back."
Yesterday, SPD also honoured several organisations for their support of the group. Three companies - Microsoft Singapore, StarHub and Far East Organization - received SPD Distinguished Patron Awards for donating more than $1 million each to SPD.