SINGAPORE: Organisations supporting people with disabilities have welcomed the provision of disability-related statistics in the national population census, saying it is a step in the right direction for inclusivity and better planning of services.
The data was included for the first time in Singapore's census. Released last Friday (Jun 18), it covered residents who have difficulties performing basic activities – including seeing, hearing, remembering, self-care, communicating or moving around.
The census noted that this definition follows guidelines from the Washington Group on disability statistics, and respondents may or may not be medically diagnosed with a disability.
Overall, about 97,600 residents aged five and above were unable to, or had difficulty performing at least one basic activity in 2020. The data was also sorted by age, housing type and employment among other factors.
Ms Ku Geok Boon, the CEO of SG Enable, said the move “underscores Singapore’s commitment towards supporting people with such difficulties, which could include persons with disabilities”.
Most developed countries have already been providing such information in their own census, noted CEO of SPD Abhimanyau Pal, who also welcomed the inclusion of such data.
Dr Marissa Medjeral-Mills, executive director of the Disabled People's Association (DPA), said that such data has been a long time coming.
“You want to know how big a community is … so that you can start to understand why we need to have more inclusion in our various sectors of society," she told CNA.
For instance, having data on people with difficulties can ensure that there are appropriate elements to support them, wherever they live, learn, work and socialise, she added.
Mr Edmund Wan, the president of the Handicaps Welfare Assocation, shared the sentiment.
“(In the past), in the absence of statistics, we were more or less told that persons with disabilities were a very small number, but what is small? Nobody could tell.
“We realised it was important to have statistics to back us, to (help) us advocate what we wanted, for persons with disabilities to be included,” said Mr Wan.
The Singapore Association for the Deaf's (SADeaf) deputy director Alvan Yap added that the data is important because it is not mandatory for someone to register his or her disability in Singapore, and there is no national disability register.
Due to definitions, the data does not refer specifically to people with disabilities. But the figures can serve as another reference point for the sector in planning services and programmes, said Ms Ku.
For instance, data on labour force participation among these individuals may provide insights for employment assistance.
“SG Enable could work with stakeholders in the employment space to strengthen support for job seekers with particular functional limitations, or intensify outreach and education for employers,” said Ms Ku.
A category studying usual modes of transport to work can also “give fresh perspectives” to SG Enable’s work with public transport providers in improving accessibility for people with disabilities, she added.
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SPD’s Mr Abhimanyau added that data can help authorities plan for care services to be located in areas with potentially higher demand, and to know what types of services are needed.
Other valuable information includes the distribution of elderly with and without difficulties performing basic activities, as well as their family situation, he said.
But he noted that such information is only useful “to a certain extent” because the census is conducted once every 10 years. Profiles of respondents may change over the next few years, as demographics change and new towns are developed, he said.
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Handicaps Welfare Assocation's Mr Wan added that the data could help inform the development of new technology for people with disabilities.
For example, for projects by polytechnic students that seek to create such solutions, the data could help identify problems to be solved, he said.
“I always say - without data, we don’t know what we want."
SADeaf's Mr Yap noted that data on those with hearing difficulties, amid an ageing population, will also serve as an "impetus towards action to prevent and mitigate the adverse effects of hearing loss among the elderly".
IMPROVEMENTS TO BE MADE
The organisations acknowledged that getting such data was a huge undertaking, but added that there are still some elements on their wishlist.
Dr Medjeral-Mills suggested having more employment-related data, such as on job satisfaction and job retention.
“These are things that would be very interesting to know, because persons with disabilities not only face issues getting into the workforce and getting jobs they actually like. Staying in the workforce is another big issue,” she said.
She added that data relating to psycho-social disabilities would be good to have, although it might be trickier to pick up due to varying definitions and stigmas around such conditions.
Data on non-residents with such difficulties may also be included, she said.
SPD’s Mr Abhimanyau is hoping for a qualitative follow-up study on the individuals identified in the census, to better understand their needs.
“These could be commissioned by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Social and Family Development for planning purposes and the reviewing of the adequacy of the current service model,” he said.
Within existing data, SG Enable’s Ms Ku said it would be useful to get a more in-depth look at the group classified as “having some difficulty in performing at least one basic activity” – which comprises about 145,000 residents aged 5 to 59.
“More data on the above will give social service practitioners, including those in the disability sector, a better sensing of where the gaps are, assess the impact of disability inclusion efforts so far, and prioritise areas for improvement,” she added.