“In Singapore, people with disabilities have been an invisible population for the longest time” (Census To Boost Inclusiveness, Theresa Tan).
To complement the government’s plan to find out the number of persons with disabilities in Singapore, in the next census in 2020 – which also seeks “to uncover the type of disabilities they have, their age, and their household structure” (ST, Apr. 28) – two related proposals should be considered: first, the creation and subsequent maintenance of an official central registry for the disabled; and second, the use of data and statistics for analytics, and therefore for better policymaking. The census is a useful first step for an “invisible population” that we know little about, yet given the amount of work involved it is only conducted once every 10 years, whereas needs are more dynamic and require more updated information.
At the moment, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) administers the Developmental Disability Registry Identity Card, but it is not clear how extensive it is – that is, whether it covers all or a majority of persons with disabilities in Singapore – and if the data and information gathered have been used for policy or research studies. The attention paid to the upcoming consensus may suggest that still not enough is known about this group of Singaporeans. In addition to the advantages of a comprehensive landscape study, updated regularly, the government and its agencies can also better coordinate the work of voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), and at the same time evaluate the effectiveness of programmes or interventions.
With the data and statistics in place, in this vein, analytics allow for more specific questions to be explored. What are the prospects of students who attend the special education (SPED) schools? Do persons with disabilities secure long-term, gainful employment, and what are the employment rates in general? And in the even longer term, how do they receive health and psycho-social care, especially if they cannot be self-reliant in tasks and do not have parental or familial support? In particular, attention should be paid to the 20 SPED schools – which receive funding from the Ministry of Education and the NCSS, and operated by the VWOs – since they appear to be the main and the most successful policy for the younger individuals.
At its initial stages, some hard work – in terms of getting funding and resources, gathering historical data-sets, and digitising hard-copy records and case information – should be expected, and moving ahead it would be necessary for the VWOs and their social workers to leverage upon technology. The gains for the beneficiaries, nevertheless, will be significant.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.