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Inspiring those with visual disabilities to contribute to society

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) International White Cane Day

20 October 2018

Mr Choo Chek Siew

President, Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH)

Mr Ng Guan Sing

Organising Chairman of the International White Cane Day

Mr Ando Yeo

Executive Director, SAVH

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good morning to you all! I am happy to join you today as we commemorate the International White Cane Day.

Helping people with visual disabilities contribute to society

2. On this Day, we celebrate the achievements of people with visual disabilities, who live and work independently, achieve success and contribute to society. People with visual disabilities, like everybody else, are part of our society. There is no reason why they cannot be. Even so, we still hear of misperceptions about the types of jobs they can perform, and their ability to perform tasks independently.

3. That is why Mr Steve Tee’s story is an inspiring one -  not only is he a leader at the workplace, he is also an elite Team Singapore athlete. Steve suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a rare disease causing slow loss of vision leading to blindness, and was referred to SAVH’s Skills Development Programme for employment assistance in 2009. Working at Eureka Call Centre, Steve was promoted from trainee to Supervisor in less than 3 years. He was also recognised with the Exemplary Employee Award 2014 by the Enabling Employer’s Network and SG Enable. Outside of work, Steve is a member of the national para-cycling team. He won a bronze medal at the ASEAN Para Games last year, and recently returned from Jakarta after representing Singapore at the Asian Para Games. Well done, Steve!  

4. I would also like to mention another very dear friend, Mr Ali, who is our Chef de Mission for the Asian Para Games for Jakarta. He is like the overall chief for the whole Team Singapore that was going out on a sports campaign for the Asian Para Games and he has a very difficult role. He has to manage all the logistics, all the operations issue, all the technical issues for the athletes and when the athletes have problems with the games officials, he has to represent Singapore and negotiate for them. Indeed, a very difficult task and we are so proud that Mr Ali has discharge his responsibility with great honour. Thank you very much Mr Ali.

5. As you know in para-sports, we have been enlarging the type of sports, the type of events for persons with all abilities and that they encourage all of you here to participate in sports, one form or the other, whether it is recreational, whether it is for your physical wellness or actually as an elite sportsman. There are many opportunities now and we urge you to give it a try. Every year, around July, August, National Day, we have a Singapore National Games. This year onwards, we have included a para-sports element, so not just able-bodied but persons with disabilities or special needs are also included. There are many many sports to choose from and you can all see that sports is a wonderful property or it has the ability to inspire us to excel in areas that we didn’t realise that we have. So really good way for us to find new ways to expressing our talents.

6. Since 1951, SAVH has championed the needs and aspirations of Singaporeans with visual disabilities. Today, it serves more than 3,900 registered clients. SAVH has a range of services for them, mostly free of charge. Its vision rehabilitation programmes help clients develop the skills and confidence to perform everyday tasks without the use of vision. With this training, an individual with visual disabilities can perform any job that involves a computer, when aided by screen-reading software, microphones or headsets, eliminating the need to use a mouse.

7. I encourage employers to help their employees with visual disabilities integrate better into the workplace. Sometimes, it could mean making small changes to the workplace to include prominent visual cues, such as colouring the edges of stairs. Now this is not good just for persons with visual needs but also for anyone of us who have to navigate stairs, particularly the elderly as well. This reduces the risk of falls and helps employees move around safely. Employers can also tap on Government support schemes. The Open Door Programme Grant administered by SG Enable helps employers hire, train and integrate people with disabilities. I commend three of the employers here with us today – Project Dignity, Glow in the Dark and Eureka Call Centre Systems. Thank you. – who have used these resources to adapt their facilities and fund training programmes to meet the needs of their employees. More importantly, I would like to commend these three employers for being employers with a social mission. We need more employers like that who not only in a business of making profits or providing services, but more importantly creating employment opportunities for persons with special needs and this is how we can become a more inclusive society, where all segments of the population can benefit from economic progress and development.

8. For the rest of us - in our neighbourhoods or at the workplace - we can do more to help people with visual disabilities build confidence to go about their daily activities. For example, we can learn basic guiding techniques to render assistance when needed. SAVH has also produced four short public education videos on basic guiding which will be screened at various MRT stations.

Building a caring and inclusive home

9. As we learn to better support people with disabilities, we are also growing the SG Cares movement, our national movement which aims to grow a culture of care and inclusivity. SG Cares, which is up here on this backdrop renews our commitment to care for each other, and brings together different partners to contribute to the common good.

10. Through SG Cares, we are breaking down barriers to volunteerism, we would like to connect Singaporeans who want to volunteer with the needs in their communities. We have started a series of SG Cares Community Network sessions across towns to raise awareness of local community needs, share best practices and foster collaborations. The National Council of Social Service has also developed numerous e-learning courses to equip volunteers with the right skills and knowledge to reach out to persons with different needs and abilities. So we want more volunteers to volunteer in the visual category. How do we train them to deal with persons with visual disabilities or if you are dealing with elderly with dementia, what are the skillsets needed? So NCSS, knowing that many Singaporeans who want to be volunteers are really coming out with programmes like this, courses like that to allow volunteers, new volunteers to join in quickly, picking up the skills in a very convenient way so that they can contribute immediately, effectively, communicating to the community that they are serving.

11. The good work of SAVH exemplifies the spirit of SG Cares. As SAVH reaches out to people with visual disabilities, I hope it will continue to connect partners, share resources, and champion SG Cares. Actually here I would also like to urge everyone here not just the able-bodied persons but also persons with special needs or visual disabilities. Do not underestimate your ability to affect another person. You have it within your control, a lot of talents, a lot of resources to really inspire one another. I would like to point out that people like Steve and Mr Ali because even though they have special needs, they have taken up roles that many able-bodied persons have done or even do it better than the rest. 

12. So actually by doing, by champion and blazing the trail you are inspiring others, you are giving examples, you are the role model of others and you are giving hope to people around you. So I think in many ways, even people with special needs or disabilities can contribute and can volunteer and give back to the community. You are not just a beneficiary. You have the ability to be a benefactor as well. So I would like to urge everybody to see yourself as a resource that you have the talent to touch another person’s life and influence another.

Conclusion

13. So I encourage all of us – individuals, neighbours and employers, employees – to begin with simple acts of care, to help people with disabilities build confidence in daily lives, so that they can live their lives to the full. By bringing together people who want to help, and the people need help, we will build a more caring and inclusive Singapore for present and future generations. Thank you.

Last Updated: 12 November 2018

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