SPD 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner – Speech by Ms Chia Yong Yong


Your Excellency, Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong
Distinguished guests
Colleagues and friends
Ladies and gentlemen


SPD Over The Years

1. A very warm welcome to SPD’s 50th anniversary celebration and thank you for taking time to join us on this very special occasion.

2. SPD’s humble beginnings dated back to 1964 when Tan Sri Dr Tay Teck Eng, the late philanthropist, dentist and academician, and Mr Leslie Rayner, a lawyer and social worker, together with a group of like-minded volunteers from the Rotary Club, came together to create employment opportunities for persons with disabilities who had difficulties finding work. What started off as a small operation under a zinc-roofed sheltered workshop in Tiong Bahru has grown into one of Singapore’s more established voluntary welfare organisations, or VWO, that advocates acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities in the society.

3. Among us is an individual who has seen SPD unfold over the years. He is Mr Gan Boon Leong, a master craftsman and a supervisor in our sheltered workshop. Boon Leong joined SPD in 1971 when he was in his early 20s after he became paralysed. At the workshop, he was engaged in contract jobs that the workshop brought in, such as making wooden crates for bottled drinks. Subsequently, he received training in bookbinding. His artistry is reflected in the exquisite notebooks, photo frames and photo albums that he makes and the result of decades of honing his skills. Incidentally, Boon Leong is also the longest serving staff in SPD – 43 years and counting! You will hear more about him later this evening.


SPD’s Impact On The Community

4. The social service sector keeps the heartware of our nation running, ensuring that those who seek assistance get the help they need so that no one is left behind or forgotten. We work closely with those in the community and see ourselves as a conduit between the Government and the people to highlight what help is needed on the ground and how it can be best provided.

5. Over the last 50 years, SPD has looked after the interests and welfare of persons with disabilities, providing the support that they need to find independence and achieve their fullest potential.

6. We believe in giving the young a head-start to help them assimilate into mainstream society as early as possible. Our early intervention programmes such as the SPD Education Programme, Development Support Programme, Continuing Therapy Programme and the Early Intervention Support Programme for Infant and Children or EIPIC, as we usually call it, do just that.

7. Muhammad Iqbal is one such child who has benefited from our early intervention programme. Diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay, Iqbal was referred to EIPIC at SPD@Jurong in September 2012 when he was three. Iqbal came to us shy, could only utter a few words with no clarity and engaged in very limited interaction during class activities. With the support of his teachers and therapists, the Iqbal you see today is an entirely different boy. He is confident and able to initiate conversation with his peers and adults. Iqbal is also eager to share information with others and looks forward to going to our centre twice a week. You’ll meet Iqbal later this evening. He’s here with some of his classmates to put up an interesting performance just for us tonight.

8. To be financially independent is also key to becoming self-sufficient for any person with disabilities and our Employment Support Programme aims to help them achieve that. We provide training to persons with disabilities in our sheltered workshop and Infocomm Accessibility Centre, or IAC, to improve their employability in the open market. At the same time, we seize every opportunity to reach out to employers and show them that persons with disabilities have abilities like anyone else, and they can do a job as well as anyone else given some job accommodation and support. We are happy to get on board 32 employers who partnered us last year to offer jobs to 37 of our clients last year.

9. We understand the important role that caregivers play in the rehabilitation journey of persons with disabilities. As part of the holistic approach that we adopt to integrating them into mainstream society, we also empower and enable their caregivers through caregiver training and social support. The parent support groups for caregivers of children from EIPIC and training for caregivers of those attending therapy at our Rehabilitation Centres are some of such caregiver support that we provide.

10. With the knowledge and experience that we had gathered over the years, we realised that we were able to support those with other disabilities as well, not just those with physical disabilities. Today, over 20 programmes and services are offered at our four centres located at Tiong Bahru, Tampines, Jurong East and Toa Payoh, and together they serve 4,700 persons with disabilities including those with sensory, learning and developmental disabilities.


Enabling The Sector

11. Besides providing direct services to persons with disabilities, we have also assumed a greater role – and that is one of an enabler, helping to develop the capabilities of the social service sector. For instance, under the SPD Therapy Hub programme, we recruit and develop a pool of therapists who have opportunities of working at other VWOs. The arrangement is welcome by other VWOs and community care providers that see this as a viable solution to their manpower needs. At the same time, the therapists also get to develop professionally when they gain valuable clinical experiences managing clients with diverse needs in different care settings.

12. The organisation is also developing its expertise in the field of early intervention support. Our teachers and therapists conduct monthly workshops for pre-school teachers to enable them to identify young children who may need that extra boost. This early detection in the child’s developing years will make that difference in their transition to mainstream schools.

13. As a Centre of Specialisation for Assistive Technology, we train teachers at Special Education Schools in the use of assistive technology so that the teachers in turn can apply their knowledge in assistive technology to help their students learn more effectively in class.


Developing Sustainable Partnerships

14. The Government has introduced a number of social schemes and initiatives to give those in disadvantaged circumstances a little more help, in part to get them integrated into mainstream society. The Pioneer Generation Package, concessionary fares on public transport for persons with disabilities, setting up of Disability Support Offices at Institutes of Higher Learning to give students with disabilities more support in schools and the Tote Board’s Enabling Lives Initiative to spur more innovative projects to impact the greater community are some. On top of these, legislation requires new buildings and infrastructure to be accessible and barrier-free for a more inclusive society. More sheltered walkways connecting to train stations have been erected, train stations have also been upgraded to include lifts to make commuting easier for the elderly, parents with prams as well as those with mobility impairments. More wheelchair-friendly buses also ply our roads now.

15. While the Government can introduce these initiatives and schemes, it is the community effort from the people sector, private sector and public sector that has a farther reaching effect and is possibly more sustainable in the long run. We are extremely grateful to corporate partners who are with us for the long haul. Their funding support not only gives us the confidence to develop a programme when we see a pressing need that has to be met, but also the ability to sustain the programme over time to realise the impact that it has on the lives of those it serves. Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation, Microsoft Singapore, NatSteel and StarHub are just some of the many who have journeyed with us. It will take all night to name all of them, so I would like to say a big thank you to all of you.



16. SPD’s history is illuminated by many philanthropic figures such as Tan Sri Dr Tay Teck Eng and Dr Ee Peng Liang, who had advocated passionately for the better welfare of those with disabilities. In the years that followed, others have continued their good work – individuals and organisations who gave time and money to help those who are underserved. To the many donors and volunteers here tonight, thank you once again for sharing our belief. Your support ensures that we are on track to making Singapore an inclusive nation and a better place for everyone. I am also very blessed to be working alongside a dedicated and passionate team at SPD. They are the ones who help grow SPD into the organisation that it is today, and the hard work that they put in are evident in the smiles that we see on the faces of our clients.

17. SPD has come a long way over the past 50 years. It was founded with the vision to create an inclusive society for people of all abilities. I am confident that in the years ahead, the staff and management of SPD, together with its partners and supporters, will continue to empower, enable and enrich many more lives through our work.

18. Before I end my speech, I would like to encourage those with disabilities to do their part as well. They must not think that the society owes them because it does not. Take responsibility to make good with the support and help that the system provides and continue to dream, aspire and persevere. Those who have received assistance, do not forget to give back to the community. Think about how you can give back, and put that into action. It should never be just about us. And don’t wait to be part of the community, make yourself a part of it. To be apart from the community, or a part of the community, the choice is ours.

19. Thank you and enjoy the evening.