New campaign focuses on greater acceptance for persons with disabilities in Singapore

SINGAPORE: Hit by a bus while on a business trip in Paris in 2011, Mr Rajan Raju was paralysed from the neck down. But the corporate high-flier — who has regained much of his mobility and even attempted marathons again nearly six years on — said he prefers doing things on his own in the “first, second, third instance”, and turn to help only as a last resort.

Noting that people around him were uncertain about the extent that they should help him with day-to-day activities, Mr Rajan said helping persons with disabilities — whom he prefers calling the “differently abled” — sometimes means first grasping their abilities and how they would like to be assisted, if at all, before extending a helping hand.

“I’ve a certain set of skills, and where those are slightly weak, I’d like to do it on my own in the first, second, third instance, then if I’m boring everybody else, then I say please help me,” said Mr Rajan, who sits on the fundraising committee of the SPD (formerly the Society for the Physically Disabled).

In May 2011, Mr Rajan, then chief executive for Asia at DWS Investments — Deutsche Bank’s asset management arm — was in the French capital for a conference when he was knocked down by a bus after he ventured out for a run. After 10 days in a Paris hospital, he was flown back to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for an operation to stabilise his neck.

Slowly regaining the use of his limbs through painstaking rehabilitation, Mr Rajan returned to work nearly nine months after the accident. Today, he runs his own investment company, Invespar, which provides business advisory and consulting.

On Friday (Feb 10), the SPD kicked off a campaign, Breaking Barriers, with the aim of quashing barriers — environmental, attitudinal and institutional — to the inclusion of persons with disabilities, and promoting equal access in areas such as education and employment.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Rajan brushed off the suggestion that his recovery was exceptional. “It’s not like I’ve got anything more than (others) … Everybody who has gone through an injury like mine will have the same amount of will to (bounce) back,” he said. “It’s just that I was a bit luckier than many others.”

SPD president Chia Yong Yong said that while strides have been made in making society more inclusive for people with disabilities, much more needs to be done.

For instance, as firms ponder redesigning jobs for people with disabilities, educational institutions such as the Institute of Technical Education should be flexible in their curriculum to allow the substitution of different modules to count towards a full certificate for young persons with disabilities.

“It helps (them) to get jobs; it builds the economy in the long run,” she said. “If schools are very rigid and they say, ‘No, this is my curriculum and if you can’t do it, I can’t give you a certificate’, then we’ll always be stuck.”

Employers, too, must have the conviction that hiring persons with different abilities is the way forward, recognising that persons with disabilities “can do certain things very well”.

“Persons with autism can do repeated work very well … if you carve out that work, they do a fantastic job,” she said, noting that persons with disabilities form a “useful core group” employers can tap, especially amid the increasing difficulties to hire foreign labour.

The 10-week Breaking Barriers campaign includes a roving photographic exhibition that showcases pictures embodying the inclusion of disabled persons in everyday activities. It will move across different areas, from public libraries and community clubs to the Courts megastore in Tampines.

At the campaign’s launch at the Central Public Library on Friday, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said such campaigns were important. “Creating that consciousness is an important part of creating a more inclusive society, because it begins to help us change our mindsets,” he added.

Source: Today

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