Beyond legislation, disability inclusion requires changing mindsets

Even though guide dogs have been around in Singapore for over a decade, discrimination towards them has persisted. 

Less than a week after Senior Parliamentary Secretary (SPS) Eric Chua championed the need for disability inclusion in Parliament, Paralympian Sophie Soon and her guide dog Orinda found themselves denied entry into a café

Unfortunately, this is not the first time such incidents have happened to Ms Soon and other guide dog users despite clear legislation recognising guide dogs as mobility aids, which grants them entry into shopping malls, public transport and food establishments (even Halal ones). 

As we journey towards greater inclusivity as part of our Forward SG exercise, what can we do to ensure that persons with disabilities (PwDs) feel supported in their needs and aspirations?

Why we need to talk about disability inclusion

A group of people standing outside a building

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Today, Singapore has all the infrastructure of a first-world country. But as we look beyond our futuristic skyline, what is it we seek to find? 

A community that cares and uplifts each other, or a society driven by greed and self-seeking behaviour, one with zero regard for those who might need a bit more help than us? 

It is a no-brainer that the former is what we aspire towards because a country lacking compassion is one without a soul. 

This is why, since the first Enabling Masterplan in 2007, the PAP Government has been rolling out five-year roadmaps to empower PwDs and nurture a more inclusive society. 

Now into its fourth iteration, the Enabling Masterplan 2030 (EMP2030) launched last year sets out a new vision where PwDs will be supported to reach their full potential. 

At the core of EMP2023 are recommendations to create physical and social environments that are inclusive in nature and enable PwDs to live independently. 

And with compassion at the core of the PAP, the Party will continue to rally for more societal acceptance of guide dogs to enhance the mobility and independence of visually impaired persons.

But as we have seen, laws (even punitive ones) are only one-half of the equation. 

Ground-up approaches to drive inclusivity

The Purple Parade

Besides public education, a change in mindset is what we need to stop fear from overriding our compassion. 

This is because when we look at the conflict surrounding guide dogs or any other accommodation for PwDs that ends up in the tabloids, it is clear that these are actions driven by illogical fear. 

Fear and uncertainty over how to interact with PwDs (and their guide dogs and carers) because it is a new and unexpected situation. 

For that reason, the PAP has been driving ground-up efforts to change how we view and treat PwDs. 

SG Enable, for instance, is an agency dedicated to raising awareness of disability issues. 

So far, it has piloted mentorship programmes and started the Enabling Village – an inclusive space that provides employment and training facilities for PwDs and the larger community. 

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In addition, community events such as the Purple Parade and the Enabling Lives Festival are ways in which PwDs, caregivers, and the public can connect, collaborate and celebrate. 

The incident with Ms Soon is a reminder that a top-down approach from the Government can only go so far at driving disability inclusion. 

Only by encouraging and normalising our interactions with PwDs, will our fear and discomfort of the unknown fade away. 

Therefore, it is up to us individuals to make that effort to open our hearts and minds to include PwDs in civic life and make ableism a thing of the past. 

Unfortunately, we still have some way to go in changing our mindsets.

And as SPS Chua shared in an Instagram post, it is a long and winding road. But we can learn from each experience and do better in disability inclusion.


Picture Sources: Enabling Village/Central Singapore CDC/Eric Chua via Facebook