I’ve already spoken on this blog before about disability, and about how it usually takes someone we know and care about become ‘disabled’ for us to actually begin to think about how lucky we are.
Today’s focus was on ‘Enabling Singapore’, complete with one of those workshops where you push yourself around in a wheelchair, fall over whilst trying to use a single crutch to walk, and get lead around whilst your vision is covered. Nothing we did in the work shop served as a huge wake up call for me. I like to think of myself as a pretty empathetic person (I literally cry in EVERYTHING), and I’ve had a lot of exposure to and discussions around disability in my life. I’d never say I know everything, because that’s not the sort of person I am and obviously I’ve never (thankfully) experienced it first hand for longer than a few minutes, but I have a pretty good idea of the struggles people with disabilities face.
What really stood out to me was how much I had taken for granted Australia’s attitude towards disability. In Australia, being disabled doesn’t make you less of a person, it doesn’t give you fewer rights, and it certainly doesn’t make you an outcast. Our infrastructure isn’t perfect, and we may not always use the most ‘political correct’ term, but on the whole people in Australia are pretty understanding. Bus drivers are happy to jump out and lower their ramp for people in wheelchairs or with prams, or to lower the bus for people with a walking stick. No one complains about offering their seat to someone who looks like they need it more. Schools work with parents (in most cases) to ensure children with disabilities (both physical and mental) have equal access to education opportunities. It’s something I’ve always taken for granted – people with disabilities are still people.
The attitude in Singapore is so different. Cultural ignorance and superstitions around disability still impact people’s attitudes towards those who are disabled. Although the government pushed for creating a Singapore for both able and disabled people, its solution of throwing technology at the problem rather than addressing people’s underlying biases shows that there is still a long way to go. Singapore, as a developed country in a still developing world, is behind the rest of the developed world in its attitudes towards disability, and it’s shocking.
I think the difference in attitudes was summed up perfectly by the man who came to speak to us about disability and conduct the workshops (paraphrased)
If I were to sit on the MRT platform in Singapore and put out my hand, people would give me money. People in Singapore are sympathetic towards people with disabilities. People in Australia are empathetic.