On the quiet Sat afternoon of Feb 28 2004, Think Centre (TC) launched its -Cambodian Landmine Survivors Support Campaign Photo Exhibition with a social dialogue on disabled citizens.
Attended by socially concerned citizens from all walks of life, the Forum on disabled citizens was the prelude to the preview of the upcoming photo exhibition by TC.
Sinapan Samydorai , President of Think Centre, opened by acknowledging challenges faced by the disabled and commended the efforts of disabled activists such as the Disabled People's Association. He regretted that the economically successful Singaporean state continued to perceive disabled citizens as lesser economic equals. The state was also responsible for perpetuating the warped societal viewpoint of welfare services provided to the disabled as acts of charity. This, he claimed, was not in line with the human rights doctrine of equality of all.
The keynote speaker, Mr Ron Chandran Dudley, President of the Disabled People's Association, recounted the international developments where countries discontinued to see disability as debilitating to human value. Attitudes changed gradually to accept that the disabled were part of society and that they were capable of leading normal family lives. Turning his attention to Singapore, he shared the history and work of the Disabled People's Association (DPA) to drive home the need for greater awareness of and meeting the needs of the disabled. He remarked that change in perceptions, much less policies, could take decades but this should not discourage the disabled who continued to play its role in society and economy.
Charles Tan, a member of Young Democrats (youth wing of the Singapore Democratic Party), provided a youth perspective towards disability next. He outlined the added pressures and discrimination faced by disabled youths vis-à-vis young able-bodied Singaporeans. He lamented the paucity of feedback channels for disabled youths and cautioned against the perception of students with psychological problems as disabled within the highly pressurized education system.
Prathimohan, a visually-handicapped student leader and active member of Think Centre and DPA, shared his undergraduate experiences of the disabled being socially excluded. According to him, there was social stigmatization of the disabled as economic burdens who were incapable of contributing to the economy and seen as liabilities in the education, public transportation and employment schema.
Members of the audience also had their say in response to the panelists' sharing.
Braema Mathi, President of TWC2, highlighted the need to throw out state policies and regulations that discriminated against the disabled and created stigmatization. She refuted the notion that the disabled were of negative economic value and argued for such mental and physical barriers to be broken down. She asked for political will by the government to take this up as a citizen rights issue and support the work of volunteer welfare organizations such as DPA and TWC2.
Tan Kok Liang, a victim of a horrific accident that saw him undergoing extensive facial reconstructive surgery, shared his personal experiences where he nearly became disabled for life. He has since realized the importance of family support and personal conviction in standing up to societal stigma of the disabled. Abled-bodied Singaporeans who disregarded the disabled, were no less disabled beings according to him.
In closing, the keynote speaker noted the government's gradual attitudinal change in balancing economic interests with meeting the needs of the disabled. He stressed the need for educational efforts in schools, equal opportunities at work and media help in creating awareness of and respect for the disabled.
On this note, Samydorai announced that Think Centre's 2004 anti-landmine awareness campaign in the form of a photo exhibition depicting the lives of landmine victims. An initiative in collaboration with the multi-national M&C Saatchi Singapore, TC provided the leads and contacts to landmine victims in Cambodia for where real-life photos of victims were taken. M&C Saatchi designed the impactful black-and-white photo-editorials that were publicly exhibited for the first time.
Look out for upcoming details of this roving photo exhibition on www.thinkcentre.org
Sources and Relevant Links:
Think Centre Forum on Disabled Citizens Approved 24 February 2004
Think Centre Forum on Disabled Citizens 15 February 2004
Think Centre A charter for deafblind children and young people 05 February 2004
Think Centre What Singaporeans can do to Ban Landmines