Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth & Sports and Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts,
Mr Tan Choon Seng, Group Chief Executive Officer, WBL Corporation Ltd
Mr Royston Tan, Chairman, Wearnes Centennial Celebration Organising Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good morning to all.
1. Welcome to the launch of the Wearnes Centennial-SPD Fund and national Wheelchair Enabler Development Programme. Today, we are very happy to have in our midst representatives from the government sector, transport providers, private companies in the business of mobility aids, tertiary and research institutions and community organisations serving the elderly. Our partnership would only bode well for wheelchair users here, so we are very happy that you made the time to come and be with us for today’s launch. On behalf of everyone here, I would especially like to thank Dr Vivian Balakrishnan for gracing our event today. Your presence here, Sir, reaffirms the government’s explicit support for the use of assistive technology to help level the playing field and maximize the potential of disabled people.
Wearnes Centennial-SPD Fund
2. WBL Corporation Ltd, known to most as Wearnes, is celebrating its centennial year. The leading multi-national corporation boasts an illustrious 100 years; it is reputed for its innovation and creativity, traits that give it the competitive edge to continue expanding, reinventing and developing new businesses.
3. That Wearnes has not forgotten the needs of the community in its commercial pursuits is evident in its support of NTU and now, SPD. In commemorating its centennial milestone, Wearnes has initiated the Wearnes Centennial-SPD Fund, from which SPD is grateful to be benefiting from.
4. There will be fundraising activities and opportunities throughout Wearnes’ Centennial Year Celebration. To date, only three months since fundraising began, the Wearnes Centennial-SPD Fund has raised close to $300,000. One of the key fundraising activities is the Wearnes’ employee leave donation scheme; this project alone brought in close to $180,000. We also understand that one of the management staff of WBL Corporation even took the lead to donate a full year’s worth of leave. We salute Wearnes and all the staff for their very innovative and generous support.
5. The Wearnes Centennial-SPD Fund will go towards enhancing SPD’s Specialised Assitive Technology Centre. Even though the Centre is partially funded by MCYS’ VWO Capability Fund administered by NCSS, the demand for assistive technology services, or AT services, has been increasing. This support from Wearnes is certainly a critical boost for the Centre
6. The Centre will be able to broaden and deepen its services to meet the needs of more clients. We intend to help more physically disabled children in the special and mainstream schools. We will develop new services in the area of powered mobility and mounting services. We are also in the midst of working with Bizlink, an organisation that helps people with disabilities in the area of employment, to broaden our partnership to better serve and encourage companies in employing disabled people. Our efforts align with that of the ADVANTAGE! Scheme for disabled people.
7. The fund will also allow us to acquire a more comprehensive range of equipment for assessment and training, and even to start a loan library for disabled people to try out AT devices. We are delighted indeed with the support and look forward to a continued partnership with Wearnes for the rest of its Centennial Year Celebrations and beyond.
Developing the Wheelchair Gap Enabler
8. Applying Wearnes’ innovative spirit to the Fund, we initiated an ambitious project to develop a modular device to enable wheelchair users to have greater accessibility and independence. This project is an extension of a Memorandum of Understanding signed last year between SPD’s Specialised ATC and NTU to look into the research and development of assistive technology. Today, we are very happy to showcase this fruit of labour.
9. The Wheelchair Gap Enabler is an invention by Assistant Professor John Heng from NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. There were two primary tasks identified at the start. One was to develop a proof of concept good enough for product visualisation. The other was to treat the project as a learning process to find out the feasibility and difficulties of developing a modular enabler concept. The project has met and exceeded all our objectives as we unveil the first version demonstration prototype of the Wheelchair Gap Enabler today.
10. The success of this project has given us the confidence to move towards a national Wheelchair Enabler Development Programme. This is very timely and complements the current move towards a more accessible transport system and barrier-free Singapore. That said, our efforts in developing the Wheelchair Enabler is in no way an attempt to replace or slow down this process. Instead, we hope that we can help to even hasten the process of making Singapore more accessible to wheelchair users in general.
11. I wish to cite two examples to illustrate my point. Ramps, which allow wheelchair users to move to higher or lower levels, are an essential feature of any effort to create greater accessibility. Although they can be made to have very gentle gradients, maneuvering up or down ramps can prove to be a big challenge especially for those with poor hand function. The same can also be said for wheelchair users crossing the gap between a bus stop and a wheelchair accessible low-floor bus.
12. Most commercially available complex wheelchairs are designed as a whole unit and are generally very costly to purchase, service and repair. The Wheelchair Enabler Development Programme effected through a national competition however will be based on standardised wheelchair dimensions and calls for three separate modular concepts, namely “power, gap and kerb” enablers. We believe that this approach will help to lower the cost and ease ownership of such a wheelchair and hence make accessibility more achievable.
13. The Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition is open to all individuals, tertiary institutions and organisations. Through this, we hope to tap the minds and hands of everyone in our community to come up with feasible concepts and designs. We are happy to announce that Wearnes is the main sponsor of the Competition, which is also supported by SBS Transit, MCYS and NCSS.
14. As part of the Wheelchair Enabler Development Programme, SPD will undertake further tests on potential projects from the Competition and work towards commercialising the product. To that end, we have submitted a development and business plan to the Go! Fund under MCYS, and hope the government will give us its further support.
15. Once again, we would like to thank our partners. All this exciting new development is possible because of the generosity and support of partners like NTU and Wearnes. We would also like to thank our Guest of Honour, Dr Balakrishnan once again for taking time off to grace the ceremony. Together, the government, private and people sectors, and SPD, can certainly accelerate the pace of developing a barrier-free environment and accessible transport to make Singapore a truly inclusive society.
16. Thank you and I wish everyone a pleasant day ahead.