Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at SG Enable’s 10th Anniversary Dinner on 5 May 2023.
Minister Masagos Zulkifli
SPS Eric Chua
Chairman Moses Lee and board members and staff of SG Enable
Partners and Friends,
I am delighted to join you this evening to celebrate SG Enable’s 10th anniversary.
Since our independence, we have strived to build a Singapore for all. With the establishment of SG Enable 10 years ago, we have intensified our work to build a more inclusive Singapore.
We launched four Enabling Masterplans, to improve access to education, learning, employment, and services for persons with disabilities.
We also extended the Compulsory Education Act to children with moderate to severe special educational needs, ensuring that they too, are given opportunities to realise their potential.
SG Enable plays a leadingrole, working with companies and social services agencies to implement the policies and programmes to support persons with disabilities and their families.
Earlier, we heard Chairman Moses highlighting the many innovative and impactful work to transform the lives of persons with disabilities. We also toured the “Our Gift to Singapore” exhibition, which showcased the beautiful artworks by persons with disabilities. Minister Masagos told me that we now give a lot of these gifts when we are travelling overseas.
Let me begin by commending and thanking all of you for your heart work and hard work, in making a difference! Thank you very much.
As we celebrate our progress, we must also look ahead to the future, and the major trends that can affect our mission.
For example, as our population ages, the number of ageing persons with disabilities and caregivers will go up. As their needs and ability to care evolve, we too must redesign our programmes to meet changing needs, and provide a continuum of care.
On the other hand, technological advances could unlock new opportunities for the disability sector.
From better assistive technology to redesigned jobs, technology could enable persons with disabilities to take on good jobs that tap on their skills and abilities.
Two weeks ago, DPM Lawrence Wong laid out the shifts that we will embark on as part of our refreshed social compact. Bringing Singapore forward will require us to do some things differently, building upon the strong foundations we have established.
This also applies to our work on disability and inclusion.
Having established a good base in the past 10 years, what do we need to do to enhance or do differently in this next phase?
To take us forward, let me suggest three “beyond”s:
- Go beyond care and support, to empowerment;
- Go beyond today’s partnerships, and bring in many more new partners; and
- Go beyond acceptance to inclusion.
Beyond care to empowerment
First, going beyond care and support, to empowering persons with disabilities and their families.
Every person with disability is unique, and the person and their family’s needs will vary and evolve. As far as possible, we must organise care and services around their needs, and ensure that support is comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated.
This way, persons with disabilities and their families can have greater peace of mind, and focus their energies on growing and thriving.
We have stepped up the provision of affordable early intervention services and special education schools for our young ones.
We are in the midst of expanding post-18 options, including employment support and community programmes. This gives us the opportunity to reorganise the way we deliver services to persons with disabilities and their families.
Later this year, SG Enable and SPD will launch the first Enabling Services Hub (or ESH), at the Tampines West Community Club.
The ESH expands beyond today’s centre-based adult disability care services into community-based ones, all conveniently located under one roof and within the community.
The ESH will provide greater choice and convenience for persons with disabilities and their families. It will also facilitate the integration of care.
More importantly, by bringing care into the community, the ESH encourages greater inclusion by empowering neighbours, volunteers and community partners to come together to support persons with disabilities and their families.
Besides empowering the community, we can do more to empower persons with disabilities who are work-capable to take on a diverse range of jobs.
Work is dignity, and I am happy to see inclusive hiring already taking place in sectors such as hospitality and F&B.
We must expand our partnerships into new sectors like the digital and care sectors, and work closely with employers to create new and higher-value job opportunities.
One example is Avanade, an IT services and consulting firm with eight employees with disabilities in IT testing and developer roles.
Avanade worked closely with SG Enable and their job placement and support partner, Autism Resource Centre, to equip their differently-abled colleagues for success.
I encourage more employers, especially those in growth sectors, to step forward and partner us in building more inclusive workplaces.
You can tap on a range of Government support – from the Open Door Programme to the enhanced Enabling Employment Credit – to do this.
Caregivers play a crucial role in the lives of persons with disabilities. Caregiving can be a lonely and difficult journey, so we must go beyond providing support, and empower caregivers too.
I am happy to hear Chairman Moses Lee mention how the Alliance for Action for Caregivers of Persons with Disabilities developed solutions centred around self-care and mutual support.
Such communities and networks enable caregivers to offer and provide mutual support, and ease the stress associated with caregiving.
A common worry for caregivers is future care planning. This is becoming more pertinent as our population ages.
We will do more to empower caregivers to plan for the care needs of their loved ones with disabilities.
SG Enable is working with the Special Needs Trust Company (SNTC), social service agencies and care planning experts to enhance the capabilities of touchpoints in providing future care planning support to caregivers.
With greater peace of mind about the future, caregivers can live more fully in the present.
Beyond today’s partnerships
Second, we will need to tap on new energies and go beyond today’s partnerships, to bring in new partners.
We have built a good foundation. Today’s strong turnout across the public, private and people sectors testifies to the strong partnerships that we have nurtured over the years.
In particular, I would like to thank our social service agencies, who have been delivering many of our support programmes and services.
Through your dedication and commitment, we have continually strengthened support for persons with disabilities and their families, particularly during the difficult COVID times.
Employers, as I’ve mentioned earlier, are key to creating inclusive workplaces and meaningful jobs. So I support what Chairman Moses Lee mentioned earlier about inclusive employment.
We will be affirming the leaders among this group later at the Enabling Mark Awards.
We also have longstanding philanthropic partners such as the Lien Foundation and the Chua Foundation, who have generously supported the disability and inclusion cause over the years. And we look forward to more of you joining them.
With ESG goals gaining importance, we see businesses and philanthropic organisations being more innovative in their efforts to achieve social impact.
It will create opportunities for new partners and supporters to offer new modalities of partnerships.
For example, the beautiful memento that you have on your tables is produced by Supermama, an enterprise partner under the i’mable Collective.
This Collective, which is supported by Dalio Philanthropies, fosters multi-sectoral collaboration to develop quality merchandise produced by persons with disabilities.
Tonight’s memento is a collaborative effort by 14 artists from various social service agencies and special education schools.
Another example is the Impact SG Pledge, a Forward SG ground-up initiative that brings individuals, foundations, and family offices together to contribute to local and regional causes, including SG Enable and the disability sector.
I look forward to them supporting the inclusion cause with their financial resources, expertise and networks.
Beyond acceptance to inclusion
I have just highlighted some aspects of what the Government, companies, social service agencies, and our philanthropic partners are doing. But the greatest impact on the lived experience of persons with disabilities and their families is their day-to-day interactions.
Policies and services can remove visible obstacles.
But to achieve a truly inclusive society, we must address the invisible barriers that prevent their full participation in everyday life.
Persons with disabilities are not persons in need of charity. They are individuals with talents and abilities, seeking fulfilling and dignified lives just like you and me.
This brings me to my third and last point, which is that as individuals and as a society, we must effect a mindset shift – to see past disability, focus on abilities, and make inclusion the norm.
In other words, we must go beyond acceptance, to inclusion.
This is the spirit of embracing diversity and a wider meritocracy, as we have articulated under our refreshed social compact.
Having grown public awareness through efforts such as the Purple Parade and the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards, we must continue to build greater support to embrace persons with disabilities in our midst, be it in schools, at the workplace or within the community.
Everyone can play a part in making inclusion a reality, by celebrating the strengths and abilities that every person brings.
So to conclude, as we refresh our social compact to build a more caring and inclusive Singapore, we will build on today’s foundation to:
- Empower persons with disabilities and their families to lead fulfilling lives;
- Grow new partnerships and bring more onboard this inclusion cause; and
- Foster a more inclusive mindset, a more inclusive society.
As employers, community partners, philanthropists, caregivers and individuals, you all have the power to champion more inclusive mindsets and environments in your respective areas.
We must work together, not as isolated individuals or organisations, but as part of a community of supporters and advocates for persons with disabilities and their families.
Let us move beyond awareness to action, beyond charity to co-creation, beyond disability to abilities. Together, we can make diversity and inclusion a hallmark of Singapore’s refreshed social compact.
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