Whole-of-society effort needed to include people with Down syndrome in community: Edwin Tong

Mr Edwin Tong (left), draws on the kite with beneficiary, Nur Alyssa Mohd Azli, 11, during the 16th edition of the World Down Syndrome Day event at DSA Centre on Mar 21, 2021.
Mr Edwin Tong (left), draws on the kite with beneficiary, Nur Alyssa Mohd Azli, 11, during the 16th edition of the World Down Syndrome Day event at DSA Centre on Mar 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Society needs to band together to better integrate people with Down syndrome in the wider community, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said on Sunday (March 21).

"Our persons with Down syndrome need our active participation to make Singapore a safe and supportive home for them," said Mr Tong, who is also Second Minister for Law, at Down Syndrome Association (Singapore)'s (DSA) celebration of World Down Syndrome Day.

For example, Singaporeans can share their experiences and knowledge about Down syndrome to help others better understand the genetic condition and the challenges that people with Down syndrome face, he said.

We can also support the education and training of people with Down syndrome to create more opportunities to nurture their abilities, he added.

One in 800 people has Down syndrome, which results from a person having three copies of chromosome 21.

World Down Syndrome Day is therefore celebrated globally on March 21 every year. It has been celebrated in Singapore since 2006 and officially observed by the United Nations from 2012.

The 16th edition of DSA's event was held in a largely virtual format due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with some activities live-streamed from the DSA Centre in Junction 8.

DSA ambassadors Judith Teo, 26, and Allan Cai, 22, who both have Down syndrome, helped to host the celebration.

Mr Tong said Singapore has taken significant steps to recognise and celebrate people with Down syndrome in the community.

In 2007, it launched a national plan that aims to engage people with disabilities and enhance their quality of life through integration and inclusion.

Singapore is now in its third instalment of the Enabling Masterplan, a five-year roadmap that Mr Tong said will take the country further in its journey towards being more caring and inclusive.

"This calls for support and action of the community at large, including employers, community organisations, as well as persons with disabilities and their caregivers," he added.

DSA chairman Ratnasabapathy Sivanandam said one of the biggest misconceptions worldwide is that people with special needs are generally totally dependent on others.

"Our community has become more inclusive in accepting persons with special needs and this has spurred many of our members with Down syndrome to develop their skill sets and independence to achieve their maximum potential," he said.

"However, much work remains to be done, especially in getting our society to eliminate all forms of prejudices against persons with special needs."

The association, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, has helped more than 800 beneficiaries through its programmes and services in the past year. They include more than 300 members with Down syndrome.

The celebration on Sunday featured pre-recorded performances of DSA members playing instruments, singing, dancing and taking part in a zumba workout.

It also spotlighted Rock Your Socks, a campaign in which participants can raise awareness of Down syndrome by wearing a pair of colourful or mismatched socks, which resemble the shape of chromosomes.

DSA will sell socks designed by its beneficiaries to fund its initiatives.

The association is also selling DIY kite kits to raise funds and awareness under its Soar High campaign.

Tanglin Mall is a partner for both campaigns, and shoppers can receive rewards when they wear colourful or mismatched socks. They can also redeem a DSA DIY Kite Kit at the mall until March 31.