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Singapore Affirms Commitment to Equal Rights for Residents with Disabilities

By Dr. Felicity Crawford

a new modified International Symbol of Access

a new modified International Symbol of Access

On July 19, 2013, Singapore endorsed its commitment to guaranteeing equal rights for its residents with disabilities. This is a welcome move and a significant change in policy direction for the city state, which augers well for all Singaporeans. Already, key institutions, such as the National Council of Social Services, have begun to lay the groundwork (see for example its “We are able ” campaign) for changing the policy direction. Singapore is poised to live up to its values of justice and equality for all Singaporeans.  However, in order for such a change to have significant impact, barriers – financial, social, economic, educational, and attitudinal – must be confronted and addressed in all social institutions, particularly where it matters most, in schools and in places of employment.

Students in the Educational Leadership program at Wheelock College, Singapore are currently grappling with the following question: What will it take to effectively mitigate the social, economic, cognitive, and attitudinal barriers that individuals with disabilities face in schools? On August 7, they will engage in an in-person public (and internet) conversation with key constituents (e.g. parents, educators and individuals with disabilities). Specifically, they will be discussing what it will take to secure the right of individuals with disabilities to high quality curriculum. Theirs is a timely conversation particularly given that some of the barriers they will discuss also appear as problematic in the media. See, for example, a recent article published in The Straits Times ( Singapore’s national newspaper). Below is one sample of a student’s thoughts about disability (reprinted with her permission):

Before being introduced to the concept of ableism, or “discrimination and exclusion of disabled children by their nondisabled peers” (Ellman, 2012, p.15), I had never considered that my views about people with disabilities might impact them in a negative manner… As I reflect about my work experience in the special school, I am ashamed that I had an ableist mindset as I believed that such children under my care were only capable of completing certain tasks. This affected the way I viewed their potential and I did not move past teaching them self-help skills. Having gained this knowledge about the negative impacts of ableism, I have begun to shift in the way I view this group of individuals. If given another opportunity to teach children with disabilities again, I will do my best to attend to their strengths and not judge them solely by their disability.

(Excerpt submitted on July 23, 2013 by Norashikin Binte Mohamad Shah).

In less than 24 hours the Class of 2015 at Wheelock College, Singapore will engage several stakeholders (i.e. individuals with disabilities, parents, educators, social service providers, and other interested Singaporeans) in a conversation which will be guided by the following question: What will it take to effectively mitigate the social, emotional and or cognitive barriers that children with disabilities face as learners in schools? Please join us by responding to the question by leaving a comment or raising a thought-provoking question or two, to which they will respond. We look forward to engaging with you in this important conversation that affirms the rights of all children.

Dr. Felicity Crawford is an associate professor of Special Education in the Teacher of Students with Moderate Disabilities Program. She brings the perspective of an experienced preK-12 educator who has worked for many years, and at every grade level, in racially and culturally diverse classroom settings.

Photo By Dr Satendra (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons