On Thursday, I was almost moved to tears when I heard Mr Lee Hsien Loong say in his first speech as Prime Minister: “We must also have a place in our hearts and our lives for the disabled, who are our brothers and sisters too.”
Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister for the assuring words.
It was something I never expected would be included in a speech for such an important moment in the history of Singapore. Mr Lee remembered the disabled as he chalked up another mile-stone in his life at the Istana swearing-in ceremony.
Why was I touched? It is simply because this neglected group can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. I think that they have been ignored and discriminated against for too long. Worse, I believe some people feel that the disabled are a burden to society.
Whenever I make a trip to the shopping centre, cinema, concert hall or a local tourist attraction, I notice that I am the only disabled around. Yet, I am sure I am not the only wheelchair-bound person in Singapore.
What happens to the rest? They choose to stay indoors as the infrastructure for the disabled is limited, For some, it is probably because they do not want to be stared at as if they were aliens from outer space or treated as if they were suffering from dreaded diseases.
It pains me to think that most of them cannot enjoy the quality of life they deserve.
I understand that in the past, the Government had to take care of the needs of the majority. Now, it should be ready to help the disabled proactively by promoting a culture of care and compassion in our society, supporting the numerous welfare organisations and making the country completely handicap-friendly.
With a PM who has the interest of the disabled at heart, this minority group can expect not only to “come out to play” but also contribute more actively to the society they live in.
Was Mr Lee just being rhetorical?
I don’t think so. I have reasons to believe that he is sincere.
I was one of the almost 100 people who asked to be invited. It is quite embarrassing for me to admit this, but I wanted to show my support Mr Lee, who was a former pupil of Catholic High.
Coming from the same school, I am proud of his achievements. However, all came to nought as I did not receive any response to my letter.
Sensing my dejection, my mother appealed to Mr Lee. Anyway, four hours later, my father and I watch the swearing-in on television while my mum was out coaching the national Taekwondo squad.
But actually, Mr Lee did not ignore my mother’s plea. He had, through his Principal Private Secretary, Mr Ong Ye Kung, extended an invitation at 5.25pm to my mother and me to attend the function.
What’s more, we could have parked at the Istana! Unfortunately, my mother had given up hope after she checked the mailbox at 5pm.
Even though I missed the event, the experience has strengthened my belief in Mr Lee. He certainly has a place in his heart and his life for a disabled person like me. My less fortunate friends and I can take comfort from his leadership.
(This journal entry was featured in TODAY on 18 August 2004)