Mr See Cher, President, Society for the Physically Disabled
Ladies and gentlemen
1· I am very happy to be here today at the prize giving ceremony of the Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition.
2· Since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech in September 2004 when he mentioned bringing along all our citizens, fortunate and unfortunate, and helping each of them to maximise their potential and progress together, we as a society have been making a concerted effort to be an inclusive one.
3· Building designers have been implementing features into buildings to improve accessibility, schools have been integrating children with special needs in schools, and many employers have become more open to engaging people with disabilities in the workplace. The public transport system reached a milestone in June last year when it started providing wheelchair accessible buses, or WABs, on the roads so that special needs users are not excluded from the service. This move is particularly helpful for our greying society. It is crucial that our transport system should evolve to meet the needs of the elderly too.
The Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition
4· While the WABs have served a number of disabled commuters over the last few months, feedback has also been received on how the service can be improved. I would like to assure you that the authorities are doing their best to improve the public transport system while balancing the varying needs of the society at large.
5· The Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) took up the challenge of organising the Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition in May last year, calling for the public to submit their ideas for the design of a device that is attachable to the standard wheelchair, safe and portable, to allow wheelchair users to cross gaps, propel easier over rough terrain and climb steps. The SPD hopes to develop a device that helps give wheelchair users greater access in the physical environment. The wheelchair enabler, as it is called, will also help wheelchair users board and alight from buses safely and independently, eliminating the need for bus captains’ help, thereby saving time for all road users.
6· This initiative deserves our accolade, not only for its pro-activity in finding a solution to a problem, but also for stepping forward and encouraging participation by the community. The government has always advocated a “”many helping hands”” approach to help the disadvantaged in our community. It is through such active citizenry, as that SPD has shown, that we are able to successfully advance collectively as a society, to take care of its members and to keep on improving.
7· Although the competition has come to a close, the development of the wheelchair enabler has not. I urge more participants to step up and in any way you can, help to make the wheelchair enabler and its higher aim of providing barrier-free access to disabled people, a reality. While the hardware like infrastructure and devices are important, the help we extend isn’t limited to giving money alone. Our acceptance of people with disabilities in our day-to-day activities, giving our time, our ideas and most of all our support, in all its forms, to people with special needs in our community, these are ways which we can offer a helping hand.
8· I applaud the participants of the Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition for getting in on the project and offering your hand by giving your ideas, and I congratulate the winners among you for your innovative ideas to improve society. I look forward to seeing the wheelchair enabler used on the roads of Singapore and to see it help advance community living here.
9· Developing a barrier-free infrastructure is not an overnight project, but one that takes time and effort on the part of everyone to make it successful. The Ministry of Transport is constantly working to improve our public transport service to make it an attractive option for all our commuters. It will also ensure more WABs to meet the needs of our special needs users, while it collaborates with the LTA on modification works, constructing ramps and ensuring bus-stops are accessible. More recently, $60 million has been set aside for upgrading works over the next five years, demonstrating the government’s commitment to making our environment barrier-free.
We look forward to more co-operation with the organisations such as SPD, as well as the community including disabled and non-disabled persons, to work towards developing a society where people with disabilities are not hampered by the physical infrastructure as they participate in the community.
10· That said, we acknowledge that our physical environment can never be truly inclusive, but it is important that we take a step to start somewhere, and to keep taking steps and making improvements. This competition represents a small but definite step towards an inclusive society. We will work towards bringing about a public transport system that is all inclusive, that bars no one, one that brings disabled people to their destinations, even as Singapore reaches its destination of being an inclusive society.