I cannot help noticing the proliferation of Government-formed committees to look into important areas for the development and improvement of Singapore.
These include the high-powered committee headed by Second Minister for Finance and Foreign Affairs Raymond Lim to promote good service; the 15-member committee led by Mr Lim Hock San to look into gambling addiction; and the multi-ministry team chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen to solve the problems of low-wage earners.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong led by example when he announced that he would steer the newly formed Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council.
These committees, helmed by people who have the power to make things happen, are good for the country. Their formation also shows the seriousness of the Government in fulfilling its promises to model Singapore into the best place for its citizens.
My question: Is there a similar committee spearheading the drive for Singapore to be an inclusive society for people with disabilities?
If there is one, it must be inactive or weak. But I don’t think there is any, for three reasons.
Firstly, I have not read about it, although I am an avid reader of our local newspapers.
Secondly, I get the feeling that disabled citizens are not regarded as important enough to be included in the community and tend to be marginalised.
Some building owners seem to be observing the code on barrier-free access grudgingly.
This probably explains why some buildings have ramps that are so steep that they are very difficult to use. It also throws light on why some buildings have ramps that can only be used in good weather. And why some buildings have ramps with curbs or poles – presumably with no objection from the building authority.
I agree that building owners may have problems with space or inconsiderate use of the ramps. But shouldn’t a thought be spared for those who need them?
When the Land Transport Authority (LTA) enhanced the traffic flow at Cecil Street and Robinson Road junction by putting up a divider, it apparently had not thought of the handicapped.
Responding to feedback by Today’s readers, Ms Han Liang Yuan, LTA’s corporate communications director, wrote: “We agree that the elderly and the less ambulant, particularly those in wheelchairs, could find it difficult to use the pedestrian underpass.”
I think “difficult” may be an understatement when my mother has to carry a fat boy like me 42 steep steps down and 12 steps up just to use the underpass.
(Ms Han did go on to add that the elderly and less ambulant could use another pedestrian crossing 80m from the old one, and that the LTA was going to upgrade the curb to make it wheelchair accessible.)
Thirdly, I keep reading about the plight of people with disabilities in the newspapers. It is the same distressing situation published repeatedly.
The cries for Singapore to be more handicap-friendly are loud and clear.
There have been many calls for the level of accessibility for people with disabilities to be increased. There has been repeated feedback on the parking woes of disabled drivers. There have been numerous pleas to help people with handicaps – mentally and physically – in various areas, including employment, education and finance.
However, little has been done. Perhaps, everybody is waiting for somebody to act. I feel that there is an urgent need to form a committee to look into making Singapore an inclusive society for its citizens with handicaps.
The committee must also comprise people whose decisions count. Such a committee is required to provide the directions and make things happen.
It can start off by working on providing seamless accessibility, looking into the education (including the possibility of home schooling) for children with disabilities, and promoting the integration of disabled citizens into the community.
It may take 10, 20 or 50 years to transform Singapore into a haven for people with disabilities. But, I say, let the work begin now.
(This journal entry is printed in TODAY of 27 September 2005)