SINGAPORE: Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) and lawyer Chia Yong Yong called on the Government to launch a “national education campaign” to raise awareness of disabilities not immediately obvious to the naked eye.
While applauding initiatives in Budget 2016 designed to aid the disabled - including higher payouts and more training support - Ms Chia said that beyond this framework of financial measures, society needs its “people to make it successful”.
“I believe we have a kind and caring society in Singapore. Yes, we have discordant voices and there will always be, (but) Singaporeans on the whole are known for their kindness and generosity,” she said in Parliament on Monday (Apr 4), adding that as a wheelchair user, she has been the recipient of such goodwill.
Added Ms Chia, who is President of SPD, an organisation that supports and helps persons with disabilities: “But why then do persons with disabilities still not feel included in our society? It cannot be that our people are not kind. Could it be that we have a lack of awareness? Could it be that there are disabilities not visible, or not perceived as disabilities?”
She said: “Can we ask this House to be that platform to let our people know there are disabilities they cannot see, cannot perceive? Those are disabilities that are real and hurting.”
“I ask for a national education campaign, so we can reach out to our people. I ask that we understand, so we can be one, and build a country together. We will then have a caring and resilient society. It matters not then whether we are rich or poor - we will all be rich,” Ms Chia added.
"GIVE US A CHANCE"
Ms Chia, who has to use a wheelchair having been diagnosed with peroneal muscular atrophy in her teens, gave Parliament a glimpse into how those without visible disabilities might feel when they face adverse responses from members of the public.
"We hope for you to be patient when we are slow entering the elevator. We don’t like to hold up others," said Ms Chia, painting a picture of how such individuals react to the public's reactions to them.
"We hope for you to be accommodating when we make strange, loud noises. We can’t control our muscles.
"We hope for you to give up your seat in the train. We feel bad for you, but our ankles are weak and we cannot stand for long.
"Please understand if I refuse to communicate sometimes. I’m afraid and confused by the many voices in my own head.
"Do not be offended if I do not respond to your greetings. I cannot hear you.
"Give us a chance to train and upgrade our skills, so we can work. We cherish our hope for a brighter future. Give us a chance to work so we can be less of a burden to our families.
"Let my son have flexible working schedules so he can accompany me for my medical and therapy sessions. I do not want him to sacrifice his career development or lose his job because he’s looking after me."
"Be kind to my parents when I throw tantrums. It is not because they did not teach me well. I simply cannot comprehend my external environment.
"Please play with me. My legs are weak, but I still have a sense of adventure. Thank you for accepting me."
Her speech was met with applause from parliamentarians, including Speaker Halimah Yacob, who called Ms Chia's comments "necessary".