Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development
Youth and Sports, RADM(NS) Ronnie Tay
Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore Miss Ang Bee Lian
Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Social Service Ms Jessica Tan, newly appointed Managing Director
Microsoft Singapore Mr Barney Lau, the outgoing Managing Director for Microsoft Singapore
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Welcome to SPD and thank you for taking the time to come witness the official opening of the Infocomm Accessibility Centre, or in short, the IA Centre. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, we are as always very happy to have your presence here. Thank you for gracing our occasion today.
2. The IA Centre is significant because it is the manifestation of many helping hands and under a Public-Private-People Partnership. The IA Centre is the culmination of the collaboration between government and government-linked agencies such as IDA, MCYS and NCSS, and corporations like Microsoft, coming together with SPD, a community organisation in order to meet a need in our community.
3. IT training is not new to SPD. We began offering IT courses to our clients from as far back as 2001. The set-up then was simple with volunteers who gave of their time to conduct various IT courses, including how to surf the Internet and keep in touch using e-mail.
4. In 2002, in support of the Government’s effort in promoting an e-lifestyle, SPD began offering the National IT Literacy Programme (NITLP) to equip disabled learners with basic IT literacy skills.
5. That same year, recognising the power of technology in enabling people with disabilities, SPD started a pilot project to build a web design team comprising physically disabled people. Besides equipping them with IT skills, this initiative also aimed at providing them with more job opportunities.
6. This was the beginning of SPD’s Multimedia Centre, or MMC in short. The trainees at the MMC regularly attended courses to upgrade their IT skills. By August last year, the MMC was converted to a social enterprise. At that point, five years into its set up, the team had a track record of having done 60 websites and 30 flash animations for corporate organisations, clubs, associations and individuals.
7. Over the years, improvements were made and critical experience gained. This led to SPD’s involvement in 2006 in a Government initiative to build an all encompassing facility to bridge the digital divide and provide structured training in infocomm technology for people with disabilities.
8. The result is the Infocomm Accessibility Centre today. Beginning as a pilot programme in April 2007, operations came into full swing through IDA’s funding from September 2007. The IA Centre now provides IT training at various skill levels to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities, whether physical, developmental, visual or hearing related. The structured training programmes are available at the Basic and Intermediate levels, and lead to an industry- recognised certification.
9. To further support the training and development of people with disabilities holistically, the IA Centre will be complemented by apprenticeship programmes. The IT Apprenticeship Programme, or ITAP in short, will help to bridge the gap between training and employment. ITAP provides on-the-job training that is realistic, application-based and relevant to the industry. This is achieved by close partnership and engagement with industry players, VWOs and SNEF. We are happy to announce that eight companies have come forward to support the apprenticeship programme pledging commercial projects, internship and employment opportunities for the trainees. We hope to see more organisations offering similar support.
10. As a step further, the Infocomm Accessibility Centre will house an Assistive Technology Loan Library. Assistive Technology, better known as AT, can help persons with disabilities to overcome their limitations. We understand that Singapore’s AT Loan Library is the first in Asia that offers support directly to, the end user, professionals working with people with disabilities, and VWOs. Other libraries in the region are open only to trained professionals working with people with disabilities. The AT Loan Library makes it possible for people with disabilities to loan AT devices for trial before committing a purchase or as replacement use when their personal device needs repair or servicing.
11. Ms Yeo Sze Ling is one such user who will benefit from the service. Sze Ling has a visual impairment. She works at the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) as a research engineer working in the fields of Mathematics and Cryptography. She has been using the BrailleNote, a portable notetaker, since young for school and now for work. Her BrailleNote broke down recently and she had to send it to the United States for repair. There was no downtime as the AT Loan Library has made it possible for her to loan another BrailleNote while hers is being repaired.
12. With the AT Loan Library and IT Apprenticeship Programme, the IA Centre will be comprehensive and holistic in preparing and equipping people with disabilities with the attitude, aptitude, and altitude for open employment. It also has the support of other community organisations such as the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, The Singapore Association for the Deaf and Society Of Moral Charities, who believing in the power of IT training in enabling the people they serve, have provided useful inputs and sent their clients to the IA Centre for training.
13. SPD is proud to be appointed by the Government to manage the IA Centre. Our mission has evolved since we first began equipping disabled people in the area of IT. While back then, our resources were limited and aims simple, today with the IA Centre, we hope to equip every disabled person so that they are enabled in this digital age. Every person with disability should be equipped with minimal basic IT skills so they can understand the language of today and the current digital world, and with other skills and opportunities so they can participate in our society as full-fledged workers and contributing members of our community.
14. As the IA Centre works towards this vision, we hope to see more companies recognising the abilities of people with disabilities and giving them opportunities to contribute. Their support could come in the form of providing resources to help enable them, or even internship places to give them opportunities to become independent. It could also simply mean being open to disabled job applicants and assessing them as they would non-disabled people. For organisations that have already employed disabled workers, to continue accepting them in the workplace, and encouraging its staff and other organisations to do so.
15. At this point, SPD would like to pay tribute to the many partners who have made the IA Centre possible. Firstly, we thank IDA for providing the funding for the setup and operations of the IA Centre for three years. IDA’s support has made it possible for the IA Centre to reach out to more people with disabilities to bridge the digital divide and elevate employment opportunities. IDA staff also contributed significantly in developing and conceptualising the training facilities and curriculum.
16. We also record our special thanks to Microsoft for believing that disabled people should be digitally able, and for taking the step to help them be so. As a key partner in the setting up of the IA Centre, Microsoft has already raised close to $1 million in the last two years to fund the set up and operations of the IA Centre. Today, Microsoft has announced that the donation will also help fund two scholarships a year for outstanding trainees to proceed to higher or professional certification IT courses.
17. We remember the support of MCYS, NCSS, Singapore Tote Board, Wearnes and NEC who have contributed towards the IA Centre. We look forward to having more organisations from the different sectors join us in enabling people with disabilities, and equipping them to be a part of society.
18. Once again, thank you all for coming, and Dr Balakrishnan, for your time and continued support.
We wish all of you a pleasant day ahead.