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New NMP to advocate for greater inclusion of people with disabilities

The Government, as one of the nation’s largest employers, should pave the way in recruiting people with disabilities, new NMP Chia Yong Yong says.

SINGAPORE: Reading news reports of the nine new Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs), lawyer Chia Yong Yong could not help but notice that many referred to her as a disabled lawyer.

For her term in the House, the wheelchair user for the past 20 years – due to peroneal muscular atrophy – has decided to focus on advocating for greater inclusion of people with disabilities, starting with the elimination of such typecasting.

“Just as you won’t say a ‘bald doctor’ or ‘bespectacled architect’ has been appointed, why talk about (my physical disability)?” the 52-year-old quipped in an interview on Tuesday (Aug 12).

The lawyer with Yusarn Audrey and president of SPD, formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled, said labels such as “the disabled community” set aside people with disabilities and mean “we will never be part of the Singapore community”. Such labelling also forces people with disabilities into their own silo and makes it “very difficult for them to realise they can contribute to the community in any way”.

“I want to highlight that people with disabilities also have differing abilities and enhance their inclusion into society,” she said. She listed suggestions, starting from small changes, such as letting people with disabilities sit with the rest of the audience at public events such as the National Day Parade and performances, to other areas that “require a lot more work”, such as in education and employment.

While she acknowledged that the location of more special education schools next to mainstream schools in recent years is a step in the right direction, Ms Chia said more needs to be done. For instance, there can be more opportunities for youth with disabilities to be educated in mainstream schools, and more activities that bring together students from mainstream and special education schools can be organised. Mainstream institutes should also place more focus on helping students understand people with different kinds of disabilities and their special needs, she added.

“(Such initiatives) will help our youth grow up with a mentality that they all live together as one community, regardless of ability,” she said.

Expanding education opportunities online will also benefit students who are unable to make their way to school regularly, she added.

Apart from pushing for more companies to open up employment opportunities for people with disabilities – such as by tapping on existing funds such as the Open Door Programme to train such workers or redesign the workplace – Ms Chia also feels that employers and fellow employees can do more to help people with disabilities feel that they are part of the organisation and recognise their contributions.

But, however sophisticated they may be, policies and infrastructural changes will fall flat if they are not complemented by “software”, she said, adding that what is key is that colleagues are comfortable working with people with disabilities.

“We need to step up not only in terms of training people with disabilities, but also building up their confidence (in the workplace). Once people learn to accept people with disabilities, other issues will also gradually be resolved.“ she said.

She added that the Government, as one of the nation’s largest employers, should pave the way in recruiting people with disabilities.

Her term as NMP, noted Ms Chia, will give her the platform to bring these issues to the fore. “I want to be able to (air) these (issues) and have people debate about them. Even if we disagree, I hope there can be greater understanding and acceptance of differences.”

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