Last week, I came across some news that left me a little perturbed.

First, yet another group of residents vehemently objected to the building of an elderly activity centre in their void deck.

Although I understand why the residents were angry at the commencement of building works without first being informed; the tone of some of the subsequent inputs gave the impression that even if informed, they would not have welcomed the centre.

In the second case, I was shown a letter written by a Singaporean to the authorities. The writer felt that his home value will drop because a centre for the disabled would be built below his flat. He also expressed concern that the children in the block will be frightened by the appearances of the disabled if the centre was located in such proximity.

Although I am not the MP in charge of these estates, my heart sank when I heard about what happened. 

My team and I have been strongly advocating for an inclusive society especially for those who are needy and/or disabled. We are currently helping one charity plan the construction of a badly needed Centre for Adults with special needs.

Ideally, centres such as these can be located within housing estates which are easily accessible by public transport and with nearby amenities. But with the rearing of the “NIMBY” (Not In My Back yard) syndrome, I now worry if these autistic adults would be further shunned and banished to a secluded location where they are less seen and heard by fellow Singaporeans?

I have 2 key reflections – one regarding the facilities; and one regarding our society’s value system.

I do not agree with some reasons why some people object to locating centres for either the elderly, children or disabled in their housing blocks; but I believe we should and can find more innovative and positive ways of including these special groups in our midst.

Why not proactively think of some positive to include these facilities within a community such that the users would be welcomed, instead of being shunned? 

I can think of several ways and I urge you to suggest others too:

  • 1. For current flats, invest in the proposed facilities to the extent that they are so well-designed and dignified that even the non-clients would admire them. I once had a personal experience building a special school with an excellent architect; the outcome was a facility that even some in mainstream schools looked at it with envy;
  • 2. Think of ways that might benefit the residents themselves such as :
  • a. Granting priority to any family in the same block who might need the service;
  • b. Offering programmes that other residents can join even if they are not clients of the centre. In one of my estates, the daily exercise programmes conducted by professional instructors are opened to all elderly residents in the estate. The centre also run great parties and gatherings which other residents look forward to joining.
  • 3. Think out of the box. Innovatively consider other ways of building the facilities without compromising the goal of being in a neighbourhood. This can especially happen in new estates where community facilities are tastefully constructed below the new flats. Why not, consider locations within a new hawker centre or a new community centre where residents congregate?

When I heard the concern that children might be frightened if disabled people appear within the neighbourhood, I am reminded of the negative ways by which many disabled are perceived in society; and the critical need for more education and public acceptance.

It led me to be even more appreciative of the residents living above a Centre for Adults with Disability I supervise in Hougang. The centre has been in existence for more than 10 years. Not only were the residents accepting of the centre’s clients, some of the RC leaders there even embraced them, letting them grow vegetation outside the centre to pick up some landscaping skills.

In recent years, the Singapore government and civic societies have accorded much attention and resources to give a leg up to segments of society who are at risk of being left behind. These included the rapidly ageing population; those stuck in low-income jobs and those who are born or acquire some form of disabilities.

However, if the elderly, the needy and the disabled are still viewed by society as people who preferably should not be too close within our sight daily, then our value system clearly needs further sculpting.

  • No one can guarantee that one’s child or grandchild will be born “perfect”, with no physical or developmental problems.
  • No one can assure that no accident will befall upon himself that might render him disabled.
  • And most definitely, no one can escape the process of ageing which comes with the high possibility of eventually losing one’s physical and mental capacity.

The maturity and character of a people is reflected by the way it treats and includes those who are disadvantaged and who need a leg up.

Those of us who believe in these values must take off our cloak of indifference or fear. We should speak up for the disadvantaged and include them in our lives, not treat them as objects of pity to be seen and heard at our convenience. Let us innovatively propose ways to address the current and future needs of these groups who need our support.

Ex-American President, Dwight Eisenhower, once said “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

Whilst we hold tight to our privileges and rights as citizens, let us hold even tighter the principle to do unto others what we want others to do unto us.




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