“Be open, there is so much room for love and inclusivity”
We’re all guilty of stereotyping and labelling people, it’s a cognitive shortcut that helps us process the world we live in, but that does not make it okay. I implore all of you to consider your own biases, what is your impression of those living with a disability in Singapore?
The Social Model of Disability holds that a person isn’t ‘disabled’ because of their impairment, health condition, or the ways in which they may differ from what is commonly considered the ‘norm’, rather it is the physical and attitudinal barriers in society – prejudice, lack of access adjustments and systematic exclusion – that disable people.
When I was first introduced to Iskandar, I was not sure what to expect. While I was aware of the persons with disabilities living amongst us, I knew that there was much I did not know about them.
“Disabled people are often not seen in Singapore, we have certain needs that go unnoticed because of the lack of awareness. Additionally, we are often painted as people that require a lot of help, while that is true, it does not make us helpless or burdens.”
In Singapore, we do have many organisations that aim to help this community, however, many of them are not seen as active contributors of society. The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) aims to change that.
The DPA’s motto is A Voice of Our Own. They are an organisation for people with disabilities run by people with disabilities, providing a platform for all people with disabilities to speak up and ensure their voices are heard. By working with decision-makers in political, commercial and educational institutions, they ensure that decisions affecting the disabled community are not made without the community’s involvement.
Iskandar is the chairman of Inclusion Ambassadors’ Informal Working Committee (IAIWC). Inclusion Ambassadors are DPA’s members with disabilities who are trained by DPA to effectively engage with the public. They raise awareness and promote inclusion of people with disabilities at various outreach events.
Iskandar is diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. But he wants us to know that he is more than his diagnosis. Iskandar is the executive director of his own social enterprise and advocates for people with various disabilities. Being aware of his own thought processes, he is better able to empower others.
“We are thinkers, leaders, business owners. We want and can contribute back to society”
DPA trains and mentors our Inclusion Ambassadors and ensures adherence to an inclusive support system. They offer paid opportunities to Inclusion Ambassadors where they can raise awareness whilst getting compensated for their efforts, exposure to different engagement methods (discussions, meetings, forums and interviews), learn to work as a team, alongside various leadership opportunities.
Through these leadership opportunities, the Inclusion Ambassadors strive to empower persons with disabilities, offering increased participation and involvement in various aspects and sectors, supporting and contributing to inclusive societies.
Iskandar is also a silat coach, painter and is heavily involved in the Malay performing Arts scene. Seeing how he wears so many hats, I wondered how he was managing this period especially with the onset of the circuit breaker.
“It has been tough. Due to how my job is heavily driven by human interaction, the circuit breaker has affected my business. With more people staying home, household expenses increase, but there is no income.”
Many have lost a substantial proportion of income due to the circuit breaker and our government has done their part in handing out solidarity payments to help us ride out this tough time. However, for the disabled community, there are gaps that go unnoticed.
“For us, access to information is a hurdle. The process of getting the handout is actually pretty straightforward, but for someone who is visually impaired, it is not so simple”.
According to Iskandar, those chat bots on many gov.sg websites do not really help people with disabilities. Likewise, there is no sign language interpreter on television, so the main barrier to information is one that is related to communication.
Iskandar sheds light on some of the struggles people of the disabled community struggle with which really gives us some insight on the challenges that we do not consider.
“One of my friends who has a vision impairment often buys her groceries online. However, people were panic buying online too, and it is not feasible for her to leave her house and go for a grocery run. For people with mobility issues, this is a battle they have to face daily too.”
Certain people in our community simply lack that choice because of their circumstances, like Iskandar’s friend who relies on such services to help her go about her day. This raises many questions on what accessibility looks like in our society and what it means to truly be inclusive.
However, there are ways that we can help.
According to Iskandar, these are some simple ways that can greatly help Persons With Disabilities better manage during this tough time.
- Assisting them with groceries and food orders
- When purchasing your groceries or ordering food from the hawker centers, it would be helpful to get their lists from them and make their purchases for them and hang them outside their doors to ensure safe distancing
- Have the local Social Services and Family Service Centre contact details handy should the need arise to support persons with disabilities Call the National Care Hotline at 6202-6868 for assistance
- Understand and gain more knowledge on Disabilities.
- With a better understanding of their challenges, we as a community can look into various ways to support them.
- Checking in on them.
- Keeping in contact offers assurance that there are people that are there to help, this is a form of emotional support which can greatly ease certain anxieties.
Especially if you know of Persons with Disabilities living in your midst, like a friend or perhaps even a neighbour, it would not hurt to ask them where you can be of assistance.
Inclusion Ambassadors advocate, raise awareness and promote inclusion. They represent the disability community and engage participants from different walks of life, sharing their powerful insights and personal experiences. Through the experiential activities and interaction, participants will become more familiar with interacting with persons with disabilities and hopefully spread that awareness to the larger society.
Being a DPA Inclusion Ambassador has helped Iskandar in many ways. It has allowed him to gain perspective, participate in servant leadership, and meet many people that have inspired him along the way. He believes that his work is meaningful because he is empowering people and showing them that they are able to achieve great things.
Iskandar does acknowledge the efforts done to raise awareness, such as endeavours like the President’s Star Charity, but more needs to be done to ensure that the needs of the special needs community is considered such as grants relating to development and not just financial aid.
Even though Iskandar finds being a DPA inclusion Ambassador rewarding, there are still certain misconceptions about what he does.
“Many think that people with disabilities cannot lead, and we are always perceived as a beneficiary. However, in our own capacity, we are all leaders and game changers”
Iskandar believes that politically, there needs to be room for people with disabilities to be heard because people still do not see them. For example, Singapore does not see psychosocial issues as a physical disadvantage, so they are not under the SG Enable scheme.
“What if the minister in the parliament is a person with a disability? There would be a larger representation for more awareness because who best to explain our situation but us?”
I’ll admit, this is not something I had actively considered. It is because of moments like this, the active involvement and platform given to them by the DPA, Iskandar is able to further his advocacy.
“We are here to talk about inclusion, we are here to bridge the gap between those that are unaware and those who can support our cause”
Just like you and me, Iskandar actively looks for opportunities for self improvement. This helps him to stay sane during the circuit breaker and think of new ways to better support his community. This is his way of contributing back to society.
“I have been using my time to upgrade myself and getting myself certified as a therapist for behavioral cognitive therapy. Additionally I have been taking courses on Udemy in attempt to digitise my business to continue supporting the community”
As much as technology has helped us stay connected during this period, there is still an element of the human touch that cannot be replicated.
Covid-19 has created an uncertain and challenging time for us all. As a result of the social distancing and circuit breaker measures, DPA’s Inclusion Ambassadors have not been able to continue with their engagements, which are often face-to-face. DPA is working hard to take these engagements online so that our Inclusion Ambassadors can continue to earn an income from talks and workshops.
DPA has also faced disruption to our fundraising activities, which we rely on to support the training of Inclusion Ambassadors and help develop the inclusive and awareness-raising services they provide.
Standing together in the face of adversity is not easy, but in the spirit of giving and the movement towards a more inclusive society, let us open our minds and hearts and extend our kindness to those in need.
Disabled People’s Association (DPA) is Singapore’s only cross-disability non-profit organisation. We represent the disability community, working to build a fairer society where everyone can participate in all aspects of life from education to employment and access to social integration. We help the disability community have a voice in society by working with decision-makers in political, commercial and educational institutions so that no decision that impacts us is made without us. We also provide training, consultancy and education for both people with disabilities and the public, so we can work together to create an inclusive, accessible society we are all proud of.
To support the DPA and their initiatives, head on down to giving.sg to make a donation today.