International Day of Persons with Disabilities

We believe that more can, and should, be done to remove physical barriers, but we also need to tackle the mental barriers against hiring PWDs.

December 3rd, 2014 | by The Independent

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2014 will focus on the role of technology in three key areas: (i) disaster risk reduction and emergency responses, (ii) creating enabling working environments, and (iii) disability-inclusive sustainable development goals. The United Nations Enable website states that the main purpose of the day is to harness the power of technology to promote inclusion and accessibility to help realize the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society, and shape the future of sustainable development for all.MARUAH, a human rights organisation, would like to draw attention to the area of creating enabling working environments, as it impacts more directly the lives of people with disabilities (PWDs) in Singapore.

As reported in the Business Times on 5 November 2014, Senior Minister of State for National Development, and Trade & Industry, Lee Yi Shyan, announced at the opening of the inaugural Singapore Universal Design Week, that the Building and Construction Authority will focus its efforts to ensure that building owners of existing commercial buildings in Singapore’s Central Business District (CBD) put in place features such as ramps, lifts, and accessible toilets to assist people with disabilities. This step is in addition to the Government’s S$30million fund for employers to make adjustments to workplaces, if needed, so that people with disabilities can access their jobs.

We applaud such a move which is in line with ‘creating enabling work environments’. This is a dedicated step towards improving accessibility for PWDs to workplaces in the CBD, expanding the pie of jobs available to them. Removal of physical barriers is inclusive, non-discriminatory and ensures that Singapore complies with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

We believe that more can, and should, be done to remove physical barriers, but we also need to tackle the mental barriers against hiring PWDs.

There is much that PWDs can bring to the table. Each person, be it with or without disabilities, has his or her own innate talents and abilities. While there may be certain physical disabilities that affect one’s ability to work, the power of technology available today can be harnessed to level the playing field for everyone.

When we talk about the labour crunch here in Singapore and the perceived need to hire foreigners to fill the talent gap, we also cannot overlook the pool of skilled workers who are PWDs.

So on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we need to commit ourselves to providing adaptive and assistive technology as a norm when searching, recruiting and hiring someone who is disabled. Assistive technology (AT) can and has helped PWDs overcome their disabilities to integrate into society. Contrary to common perception, AT is not just about complicated computer gadgets like speech synthesizers. It can be something as simple as a Braille typewriter.

Employers’ costs for providing AT can be kept low with the claims on adaptive equipment they can make through the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme. It is a win-win situation for everyone – employers enjoy tax benefits and lower recruitment costs, while PWDs can contribute to the workforce and earn a better living to support themselves.We urge for greater inclusivity of persons with disabilities. We ask of the Government to remain resolute in ‘creating enabling working environments’ for PWDs, to encourage employers to make use of technology, to promote a workplace culture based on fair practices that allow persons with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect and to enjoy equal terms and conditions of employment.  We ask of employers and society to be inclusive of people with disabilities. The benefits to everyone are manifold when we respect the rights of persons with disabilities.

Ms Braema Mathi
MARUAH Singapore