In his response to a letter in The Straits Times Forum on equipping people with disabilities with necessary skills to earn a living, SPD executive director Mr Abhimanyau Pal reiterated the need for such support to be available to them from young. We bring you his letter which was published on The Straits Times Online Forum on 21 August.
We agree with Ms Lim Lih Mei that children with disabilities should be given equal, if not more, emphasis so that they could excel and progress to the next level (“Equip disabled people with skills to learn a living”, 16 August 2014). With the signing and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), Singapore has committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities have the opportunity to live life with dignity and be given access to rights including healthcare, employment and education.
Currently, children with disabilities who are unable to attend mainstream schools are exempted from compulsory education. However, education is a powerful enabler that can transform lives. With education, persons with disabilities can hope to realise their potentials and equip themselves with the knowledge and skills for an enhanced future. More could be done to create greater opportunities for children and youth with disabilities to be educated in mainstream schools. Mainstream institutes should also place more focus on helping students understand people with different kinds of disabilities and their special needs.
Voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) are already helping children and persons with disabilities at different stages through the provision of early intervention programmes for infants and children, scholarships and bursaries, vocational training and employment support programmes.
The Government has also announced that Disability Support Offices will be set up in Institutes of Higher Learning to assist students with special needs, and Government funding, for instance the Open Door Programme, is also provided to help employers hire workers with disabilities. Recently, Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Chan Chun Sing, mentioned that social service should be considered as a key instrument in nation building. With the Government giving greater focus to the social service sector, we believe that more help and emphasis would be channelled to help persons with disabilities and those with other needs.
While many efforts have been put in place by the Government and VWOs to assist children and persons with disabilities, social acceptance is crucial in ensuring the successful integration of persons with disabilities into society. There is still a need to raise awareness through public education at different levels, such as in schools, at the workplace and within the community. Interaction and integration, especially at a younger age, of non-disabled children and those with disabilities can facilitate greater understanding and acceptance of differences.
In addition, parents play an important role in helping their children with disabilities participate socially. Their positive attitude towards inclusion and their confidence in the available support and education services will encourage their children with disabilities to have an optimistic outlook in life and build their confidence to participate and integrate socially.