How to better support people with disabilities in future pandemics? Denise Phua has 3 answers.


Cultivating a caring and inclusive community for people with disabilities (PWDs) is an ongoing commitment by the PAP Government.

This is during peaceful and pressing times alike; SG Enable training programmes and wage subsidies supported PWDs on their employment journey during the Covid-19 pandemic, for example.

And looking ahead, Mayor Denise Phua (Central Singapore) has three suggestions to better support PWDs during future pandemics — including them within a universal design approach for health planning and within mainstream communications channels and inside an inclusive national pandemic policy playbook.   

Her suggestions are timely. Public health experts do warn that a future global pandemic is an inevitable certainty.

Universal design approach: upstream inclusion for the vulnerable

Mayor Phua’s first suggestion gets at the fundamentals of planning.

“It is essential to adopt a universal design approach so that the vulnerable including the disabled are included upstream. This should happen at the strategic inter-ministerial task force level and at the highest operations level,” she said to Parliament earlier this week (Mar 21).

In particular, the upcoming Centre for Public Health and the Forward Planning Team must have an arm which looks out for PWDs, as well as groups like the young and the elderly.

“The voices of the vulnerable should be designed to be heard at the highest level upstream and not downstream.”

Mainstream communications: for inclusive outreach

At the same time, the public must have better ways to hear the public service’s voice and advice.

“Include outreach to the disabled in the mainstream communications channels such as the TV, newspapers and useful GovTech WhatsApp updates that residents receive daily,” said Mayor Phua.

Not everyone is able to access disability information hubs like SG Enable, she explained. This resulted in parents worrying about properly quarantining their children and being unclear about where to appeal for special needs arrangements.  

Public servants such as SPS Rahayu Mahzam helped with such cases, added Mayor Phua.

“But outreach has to be more systemic and affected parties need to be confident enough to have their needs heard and responded to.”

An inclusive pandemic playbook: highlighting the perspectives of PWDs

Mayor Phua also recommended developing a playbook for inclusive pandemic policies and practices at the national level.

This would ensure, through means such as allowing for flexible considerations for different support needs and a dedicated hotline staffed by human beings, that the unique needs and perspectives of the disabled are highlighted.

“Not all disabilities and support needs are the same,” emphasised Mayor Phua.

A timely reminder, especially since data show that about 3 per cent — or about one in every 33 — of Singapore’s people currently as well as previously experienced some form of disability. 

This number does make it likely that we ourselves, or someone we know, have (had) a disability.

So Mayor Phua’s suggestions combine with other PAP Government efforts for an inclusive society like the Enabling Masterplan 2030

The future might be inevitable, but there is ultimately the PAP’s multifaceted commitment that we will all face it as one united Singapore.

Images via Purple Parade, Steven HWG on Unsplash