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Definitions and Scope

Target Population: People with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities refer to “those whose prospects of securing, retaining places and advancing in education and training institutions, employment and recreation as equal members of the community are substantially reduced as a result of physical, sensory, intellectual and developmental impairments.” Enabling Masterplan, MSF

[Point to note: Lien Centre for Social Innovation adopts this definition in their recent publication titled People with Physical Disabilities in Singapore: Understanding Disabling Factors in Caregiving, Education, Employment and Finances.]

There is no standard definition of disability which is accepted by all stakeholders. For example, NCSS/SSI lists a SSI course on mental illness under disability category, but in practice persons with chronic mental illness are not eligible for disability policies and programmes. This group is also not covered by Public Transport Concession Scheme for Persons with Disabilities, for which only those with "Physical Disability, Visual Impairment, Hearing Impairment, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability" qualify.

"But this differs from that of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, because those with mental health impairments - such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders - are left out. When asked about this, the MSF says not all mental illnesses result in disabilities, and with medication and treatment, patients are able to function well on their own." (ST 8 May 2016)

Client Segments

Page to Adults with Autism

Page to Visual Impairment

Page to Hearing Impairment

Size of the Problem

No definite data of the total number of people with disability exists, because no official central registry or comprehensive disability study has been done. According to 2013 data from SG Enable, Singapore has about 100,000 people with disabilities. In view of Singapore’s ageing population, this number will increase by 2030 as more people acquire a disability through the ageing process. According to Singapore’s population index, “the number of elderly citizens will triple to 900,000 by 2030.” Population.sg

In Singapore, those with disabilities are estimated to make up 3 per cent of the population or well over 100,000 people.(ST 27 Sep 2016)

Some disability prevalence rates of Singapore citizens with disabilities are available from the Enabling Masterplan 2017-2021. According to the foreword of the Enabling Masterplan 2017-2021, 2.1% of the student population have disabilities. (Source: Ministry of Education. This is based on the number of reported cases of students with sensory impairment, physical impairment, autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. The total student population is put at approximately 460,000). Of the resident population aged 18 – 49 years, 3.4% have disabilities (Source: National Council of Social Service. Based on a random sampling of 2,000 Singapore residents and permanent residents aged 18 and above done by NCSS in 2015, the self-reported disability prevalence rate was 3.4% for those aged 18 – 49 years old. This includes those who acquired disabilities due to accidents and illness.) Of the resident population aged 50 years and above, 13.3% have disabilities (Source: National Council of Social Service. Based on a random sampling of 2,000 Singapore residents and permanent residents aged 18 and above done by NCSS in 2015, the self-reported disability prevalence rate was 13.3% for those aged 50 years and above. This includes those who acquired disabilities due to accidents, illness and older age).

To view and download the Enabling Masterplan 2017-2021, go to the Ministy of Social and Family Development's Disabilities and Special Needs page: (Enabling Masterplan 2017-2021)

Needs of People with Disabilities

Early Intervention

Need for timely detection and accurate diagnosis of disability

Existing Resources

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions

Need for timely therapy and educational support for infants and young children with special needs

Existing Resources

Developmental Support Programme provides support in speech and language, social skills, motor skills, behaviour and literacy for children with mild developmental needs

Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC)

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions


Need for accessible and affordable mainstream education

Existing Resources

Disability support facilities & programmes in mainstream schools:

Allied Educator Scheme

Disability Support Office in IHLs

Teachers trained in Special Needs (TSN) scheme

Government subsidies and funds to defray the costs of accommodation required to attend mainstream schools. These notably include the Assistive Technology Fund, Computer Access Trust Fund and Special Education Needs Fund.

Gaps and Their Causes

Vocational training provided by SPED schools has not kept up with changing job market; some roles will dry up while others will be outsourced or filled on a project basis. Consequently, SPED graduates who were trained to perform simple manual jobs find themselves out of jobs.

Uneven quality of SPED schools can be due to limitations in governance, manpower and curriculum development.

Other systematic barriers exist: inadequate teacher training on special needs; insufficient AEDs; insufficient funds to purchase AT devices and supporting services like sign language interpretation; professional ambiguity of AEDs; lack of special needs facilities and/or programmes at mainstream schools, PWDs are automatically exempted from Compulsory Education

Mainstream schools are still not fully accessible to PWDs

Possible Solutions

review vocational training to ensure that skills and knowledge taught meet the changing needs of the job market

extend Compulsory Education Act to children with disabilities

MOE, VWOs and MSF to work together to ensure all children with disabilities are given adequate support and accommodation to succeed in mainstream schools

Need for mainstream teachers to receive adequate training on special educational needs

Existing Resources

As of 2005, the National Institute of Education requires all beginning teachers to undergo a compulsory 12-hour module on special needs. The module aims to equip all teachers with a basic understanding of students with special needs.

Further, 10% of teachers in mainstream primary schools and 20% in secondary schools have undergone more in-depth training on special educational needs, and received a Certificate Level training in Special Needs. In particular, they were taught how to plan instruction, adapt and differentiate curriculum to meet the diverse needs of students.

As of 2015, more than 1,500 polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education staff have undergone training in basic special educational needs. The MOE aims to train all polytechnic and ITE academic staff similarly over the next five years.

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions

Need for quality Special Education that prepares PWDs for independent living and employment

Existing Resources

For the past decade, the MOE has committed $150 million for upgrading and building of the 20 SPED schools to provide better facilities and meet the rising demand for places catering to specific disabilities.

The MOE and SPED schools also worked together to introduce a new framework for vocational education to guide SPED schools in implementing a structured programme of vocational education that would effectively prepare their students to be employable. Presently, vocational education programmes will lead to national certification in selected industry areas for SPED schools serving students with mild intellectual disability.

To encourage students with and without disabilities to play and learn together, MOE also collaborated with SPED schools to introduce a satellite partnership programme. Under this programme, mainstream schools located near SPED schools conduct joint social and learning activities through Community Involvement Programme and Co-Curricular Activities. Today, 16 out of 20 SPED schools are involved in satellite partnerships.

MOE also enhanced professional development opportunities for special education teachers to attract and retain talent to the profession. In particular, they launched an Advanced Diploma in Special Education and the MOE Masters Scholarship in Special Education in 2014, and provides SPED schools $1,100 annually for each SPED staff to engage in professional development activities, and organised Curriculum Leadership Teams and Professional Learning Teams in every SPED school with the aim of driving curriculum transformation.

MOE also introduced a Special Education Financial Assistance Scheme which fully waives the school fees, textbooks and uniforms, as well as waives 75% of examination fees for financially needy Singaporean students in MOE-funded SPED schools.

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions

Need for smooth and achievable school to work transition

Existing Resources

School-to-work transition programme (at 5 SPED) [MOE, MSF, SGEnable]

SG Enable’s Internship Programme (partnered with 30 companies and 3 local universities)

Gaps and Their Causes

Implementation is a challenge.

Member of Parliament Ms Denise Phua: “The transition for students from school to work is not happening fast enough.” One way to quicken this process would be to extend the SkillsFuture initiative to special education schools.

Possible Solutions

Special needs education sector: “more resources should be allocated to put in place efforts like structured internship programmes that are aligned with the SkillsFuture initiative.”


Aspire to an “Inclusive workplace”, which means:

Fair recruitment and procurement practices

Policies concerning equality and human rights, working conditions, dignity at work, employee welfare are in place

Reasonable accommodation: “an accommodation is defined as any change in work environment or processes to allow an employee with disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. As such, accommodations can be broadly categorised into either job or workplace accommodation. Examples of job accommodation include job trial, part time employment, flexible working hours and telecommuting. Workplace accommodation addresses the accessibility of the compound or facility. These accommodations are relevant not only to persons with disabilities, but also to other employees as well. Amongst other benefits, reasonable accommodations can lead to employee retention.”[file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/SG-Enable-Online-HRM-Series-Recruitment-and-Hiring.pdf SG Enable Online HRM Series]

A welcoming workplace culture: “Inclusion goes beyond merely having a mix of employees with different demographics and backgrounds in the workplace. It is about appreciating employees for the unique value they bring to the workplace, and leveraging on those differences to add value to the organisation so that both the person and the organisation can flourish.” (TAFEP’s Creating an Inclusive Workplace toolkit

Need for diverse job offerings that accommodate the diverse preferences, requirements and circumstances of PWDs and the concerns of their caregivers

justin is cool

Existing Resources

Employment placement services (SG Enable, SPD, Autism Resource Centre, MINDS)

Open Door Job Portal

Gaps and Their Causes PWDs pigeonholed into certain job roles: hospitality, food & beverages, customer service

Companies and their HR may not be ‘diversity ready’?

Possible Solutions

Job placement and support services can be linked to mainstream job agencies to access larger network of potential employers

Complement existing incentives with quotas for large companies or government agencies (ST 6 Aug 2016)

Need for information on available job opportunities for persons with disabilities

Existing Resources Job Search: Open Door Job Portal

Employment placement services (SG Enable if the focal point, but services provided by SPD, Autism Resource Centre and MINDS)

Gaps and Their Causes mostly low-skilled jobs e.g. dish collector, cleaner, somewhat higher skilled jobs in offices are at entry level e.g. receptionist

Employer’s perceptions and assumptions about the abilities of those with disabilities (since a handful of them are educated in SPED schools and thus do not have the necessary skills and credentials to obtain high-wage, high-skill jobs.)

Possible Solutions Public education campaigns highlighting the strengths and abilities of those with disabilities and more career fairs for PWDs [editor: This seems to be a solution that addresses the problem of employer awareness, and not help improve the need here, which is help PWDs have access to information about jobs available?]

Need for employers to understand the capabilities of PWDs and be willing to hire

MUIS is cool

As of December 2015, 4,500 employers received subsidies from the Special Employment Credit scheme for hiring 5,700 disabled workers. ARC president Denise Phua said more employers are willing to employ the disabled due to the tight labour market (ST 19 Apr 2016)

The Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) had 35 companies hiring its clients last year, up from 25 the year before. The number of companies hiring clients of the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) grew from four in 2012, to nine last year. Uniqlo started hiring intellectually disabled employees in 2012, and has 20 such workers in its 16 outlets here. Starbucks hired six clients from ARC for its 100th store here, which opened at the Fullerton Waterboat House two months ago. It has committed to have ARC clients form at least 25 per cent of the staff at the store.(ST 19 Apr 2016)

Existing Resources

Inclusive Business Forum

Enabling Employer’s Network

Periodic public education campaigns such as ‘More Than Dis’ campaign led by a trio of undergraduates from NTU.

Special Employment Credit scheme: Government pays up to 16 per cent of the salary of workers with physical or intellectual disabilities, for those earning up to $4,000 a month (ST 19 Apr 2016)

Gaps and Their Causes

Limited effectiveness because it is hard to change employer attitude: Mr Ong Peng Kai, 24, who has cerebral palsy, felt this sentiment first-hand when he tried to find a job last year. "I studied maths and economics at university so I sent out about 30 resumes to banks, investment and insurance companies but none of them got back to me," said Mr Ong, who was eventually hired by NCSS as an assistant manager. The president of the Disabled People's Association, Mr Nicholas Aw, said the campaign should target the young more. "Such educational campaigns will help but how much they can help is a question mark. Sometimes people are aware but they are just not walking the talk," he said. (ST 3 Jun 2016)

Possible Solutions

Anti-discrimination laws and/or ombudsman body together with public education

Nicholas Aw: "Mindsets are hard to change so we need to go into the schools and start with the young because they are more open and receptive." (ST 3 Jun 2016)

Need for persons with disabilities to be work ready

Existing Resources

Career coaching and guidance SG Enable + VWO Vocational assessment (ARC, SPD, MINDS) SG Enable’s iEnable provides emotional support and prepare clients for job interviews.

SPD’s Transitional Programme for people with acquired disabilities

Workfare Training Support scheme

Open Door Programme (Training grants)

Skillsfuture initiative

Gaps and Their Causes

Limited effectiveness of SPD Transitional Programme? As of August 24, 2015, it has taken in 63 clients and matched nine to jobs.

Possible Solutions

Need for accessible work environment

Existing Resources

Universal Design

Assistive Technology Fund

Open Door Programme

Gaps and Their Causes

Using principles of universal design, the BCA has improved accessibility of our built environment. But Richard Kuppusamy, a wheelchair user, commented that the layout in the BCA code is more conducive to assistants of persons with disabilities, rather than for more independent users who do not need help.

Even with the subsidies, technology aids are costly for persons with disabilities; those from low-middle income households do not qualify for a subsidy after means-testing.

Sometimes the subsidy is not enough to cover a person’s assistive technology needs over a lifetime.

Possible Solutions

increase the means testing of Assistive Technology Fund to cover more persons with disabilities from lower-middle income households

Need for fair recruitment and procurement practices and opportunities for career progression, including employment rights

Existing Resources Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices


Employment Act

Participatory research project on employment discrimination by DPA (ST 31 Oct 2016)

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible that many companies, including government agencies and statutory boards, continue to ask in their application forms if a job candidate has any physical or mental disabilities. (Forum ST 13 Aug 2016)

TAFEP Guidelines is not strictly binding; lack bite; no legal recourse; Government favours promotional and educational approach

Laws may adversely affect businesses; Government wants to avoid market rigidity

No disability rights law in Singapore

Employment Act and TAFEP lack bite and there is no legal recourse for offenders

Our government’s view: kindness and compassion cannot be legislated. Nor can they be enforced. It follows, then, that moral suasion, raising public awareness and promoting civic consciousness are more realistic ways to bring about change. (TODAY 3 Dec 2013)

Legislation is the way to change mindsets and attitudes because people are apathetic (ST 16 Nov 2013)

Possible Solutions

Public education and legislation. Existing legislation we can study, adapt and adopt from are the Americans with Disabilities Act, the United Kingdom’s Equality Act and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act, which are regarded as being the gold standard. (Alvan Yap)

Need for ongoing work support

Existing Resources

Open Door Programme (SGEnable)

Inclusion fundamentals workshop for employers (DPA)

Integrated Community Space (Enabling Village)

Special Employment Credit

Workfare Income Supplement

Gaps and Their Causes

- “140 companies have applied for the fund, with an average claim of $3,000. About 650 persons with disabilities have been placed in jobs, including those supported under the initiative.” There is not a high level of awareness by employers of available schemes or they do not tap onto the schemes because they think it’s complicated and cumbersome

- HR is diversity ready? (e.g. HR side should have a policy to answer such queries and address any issues arising from having a staff with disability)

- low take-up rate? (need statistics)

Possible Solutions

Outreach programs to familiarise public with the schemes

Caregiver Support

Need to provide for people with disabilities after caregivers pass on

Existing Resources

Special Needs Trust Fund

Gaps and Their Causes

[“Special needs children's trust fund to get boost” ST 22 June 2011] some parents or guardians are struggling to afford the minimum $5,000 they need to use the government-backed fund. Special Needs Trust Company general manager Esther Tan said the company has so far reached out to about 2,000 parents and caregivers through more than 50 public events at places such as special needs schools and hospitals. But only about 350 approached the company afterwards to develop care plans. Fewer eventually start accounts. To date, only 115 accounts have been set up with the non-profit firm. There are other ways parents can ensure their special needs children are provided for. For example, parents can start Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts for them or nominate them as the beneficiaries of their CPF savings or insurance policies. Parents unable to come up with $5,000 can also instruct executors of their wills to liquidate their assets after they die and start trust accounts with the Special Needs Trust Company. Many parents have asked if they can use their CPF savings to fund the minimum sum, she added. But CPF funds can be used only for approved purposes under the CPF Act. Setting up a trust for special needs dependants is not of them.

Social Inclusion

Need for public to emphatically understand the circumstances PWDs face and know how to support and interact with them

Existing Resources

Purple Parade


See the True Me


Buddy'IN, a programme aimed at socially integrating graduating students from special education schools with their peers from institutes of higher learning, through semi-structured social activities and sessions.(ST 17 Jun 2016)

Gaps and Their Causes

For 'See the True Me' there is a question about the reach of these campaigns because many at a forum, many from disability sector have not seen or heard about it

Invisible disabilities (learning disorders, hearing impairment) are less obvious, and therefore the public may not understand their behaviors and support may be less forthcoming (ST 28 May 2016)

Mr Andrew Soh, assistant director at Down Syndrome Association, said public attitudes are less favourable towards people with autism and intellectual impairments, compared with those with physical disabilities, because people fear what they cannot see. "People can't tell how serious their disability is and don't know what to say or how to help them," he said.(ST 3 Jun 2016)

Possible Solutions

Need for mobility and access to transportation

Existing Resources Transportation subsidies:

Taxi Subsidy Scheme

VWO subsidy scheme

Public Transport Concession Scheme for Persons with Disabilities

Assistive devices for drivers with disabilities (ST 24 Oct 2016)

Accessible public transportation:

UberAssist Channel News Asia report

Wheelchair accessible taxis see taxisingapore.com and LTA accessibility push

Wheelchair Accessible Buses (About 80% of buses are wheelchair accessible, and LTA aims for 100% coverage by 2020).

Disabled facilities at MRT stations and in trains (More than 80% of MRT stations have at least two barrier free access routes).

Accommodation for drivers with disabilities:

Car Park Label Scheme for Persons with Physical Disabilities

SPD provides training for Tower Transit bus drivers how to help commuters with disabilities (ST 28 Apr 2016)

Gaps and Their Causes

Transportation costs, while subsidised, are still high for lower income PWDs

Cheaper transport options such as buses and trains are either too crowded for wheelchair users or other persons with disabilities OR there are service issues, such as some unprofessional or even discriminatory drivers or passengers.

Open prams used by caregivers now allowed on public buses, but not all bus drivers realise this yet (ST 2 Oct 2016)

Possible Solutions

Need for access to leisure and recreational activities

Existing Resources

ActiveSG is promoting disability sports. Various sports have been adapted for them. In Singapore, the range of sports for people with disabilities includes handcyling, swimming, table tennis and boccia, a ball game that can be played by wheelchair-users with motor-skill impairment (ST 27 Sep 2016)

The inclusive playgrounds in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Ghim Moh and the complementary Children in Action programme (ST 17 Jun 2016)

Gaps and Their Causes

Sports take-up rate among people with disabilities remains low, though they stand to benefit more than able-bodied people by being active(ST 27 Sep 2016)

Reasons why people with disabilities may shun sports:(ST 27 Sep 2016) •Difficulty in getting transport to the sports facilities. •Cost of specialised equipment and transporting them. •Struggles with the basics of daily life that push the thought of exercise into the background. •Depending on volunteers to help out, such as transferring the person with disability from a normal wheelchair to a racing wheelchair. •A tendency to withdraw from society and an unwillingness to leave the house for various reasons. •Logistics. For instance, when a wheelchair racer travels overseas for races, he has to take along a special racing wheelchair, a regular wheelchair for moving around and a commode chair. •There may also be psychological factors such as confidence, self image issues and a self-perceived inability to do sports.

Possible Solutions

There should be regular disability sports sessions in all special education schools and organisations for the disabled (ST 27 Sep 2016)

Resource Directory

Disabled People's Association


Friends of the Disabled Society


MSF Disability Division


Scholarships and Bursaries

Dare to Dream

The scholarship provides special needs persons, who are successful in gaining entry into a diploma programme at the LaSalle College of the Arts, with funding of fees for the full duration of the diploma programme at the College. Dare To Dream

Needs and Gaps Reports

People with Disabilities in Singapore 2016 PWD 2016

People with Disabilities in Singapore 2017

People with Disabilities in Singapore 2018


There are currently 9 team members behind the Disability project.

They come from organisations such as DPA, NVPC, NYC, IHPC (A*Star) and IPS.

You don't need to join the team to contribute, but if you would like to do more, please contact: Jorain Ng [email protected]

The team will then include you in their future meetings to:

1. Implement editorial policies & duties

2. Solicit participation from relevant community organizations and experts

3. Convene annual sense-making sessions to produce a needs & gaps report