As a seasoned lawyer of 33 years, Chia Yong Yong knows there are many things the law can do. It can mandate more employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, provide resources for them, and even create more inclusive public spaces.
But one thing it cannot do is to create empathy.
Says the former Nominated Member of Parliament: “The law can be used to condition behaviour, and after some time, you might even feel like people accept you. But they will never accept you as an equal.”
Instead, she wants to encourage Singaporeans to grow a bigger heart.
“In countries where there are issues with employing persons with disabilities, for example, the government could pass a relevant law—but if companies don’t believe in the spirit of it, what’s the point?”
Singapore is well-equipped on the architectural front to assist persons with disabilities, but what it needs now is to create a society that’s both welcoming and empathetic to them, says Chia, who is also the president of SPD. SPD supports people with physical, sensory (visual and hearing impairments) and developmental disabilities by promoting their interest, welfare and advancement through various programmes.
In June, it rolled out the Left Hand Challenge, a campaign that gets the public to attempt menial tasks with their nondominant hand. It offers a brief glimpse into the difficulties and frustrations that persons with disabilities face.
The challenge is just one way SPD is trying to advocate for a more understanding Singapore. Besides providing access to therapists, skills training and other resources, it also rallies for greater social inclusivity. This includes pushing for the co-siting of special-needs and mainstream schools, which give children the opportunity to interact with one another.
Chia, who set up her own law corporation in 2017, has never allowed physical disability to deter her from advocacy. Nor does it stop her from indulging her inner thrill seeker—during family getaways, she’s often the first to suss out rollercoaster rides or watersport.
“Many people say that I am resilient but they don’t realise that we are all born resilient,” she confides. “It’s a matter of having the right environment to develop the confidence we need. Otherwise, who’d ever dare imagine that we could reach beyond ourselves?”