As part of the Smart Nation push, Singapore will aim to connect all of its citizens to smart technology. Through this vision, programs will seek inclusivity through specialized programs for those who are at a disadvantage. From this vision, many of its initiatives will provide benefits to the people with disabilities.
The government has already identified specific programs oriented to assist these groups of people. Programs are working to come up with technology solutions to improve daily lives, education, career options and socialization for persons with disabilities.
One of the first landmark Smart Nation programs to support persons with disabilities was carried out through the first pan-disability IT training centre. It was opened in 2008 and named the Infocomm Accessibility Centre (IAC). It was first conceptualized in the iN2015 Masterplan by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) to provide IT training and bridge the gap for persons with disabilities. The IAC successfully completed its 5-year run under funding from the IDA, training 1,500 individuals.
Assistive Technology (AT) has been made available through the Assistive Technology Fund and the Special Assistance Fund. The Ministry for Social and Family Development reinstated this fund.
Students with special needs are provided aid through funding AT devices and support services through the Ministry of Education. Persons may also request for the purchase of devices from Special Education Needs Fund.
The Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) set up a Specialised Assistive Technology Centre, helping them be integrated into the technology forward nation. SPD also provides AT consultation, assessment, training and loans to persons with disabilities.
In regards to how technology has helped elders and persons with disabilities, Mr. Abhimanyau Pal, executive director of SPD, recently said, “The advancement of technology has made a huge impact in enhancing the lives of people with disabilities. The availability of AT has provided solutions that help them overcome the limitations of their disabilities and participate more meaningfully in activities at home, in school, at work and the community in general. For instance, persons with visual impairment could stay updated on the happenings around the world by using a screen reader software to read out information from the Internet, and individuals with speech impairment could communicate with others using speaking applications installed in tablets.”
While speaking to the Singaporean parliament on July 14, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin reemphasized that technology could be an important enabler for persons with disabilities. He said it is key to bring in the private sector who own and operate these technologies. Then the government may “bridge the digital divide” and improve the lives of all Singaporeans.
It was declared by Mr Tan that, in 2014, MSF devised a $30 million Tote Board-Enabling Lives Initiative grant scheme. This will help persons with disabilities in embracing technology that will help them live independently. For a months time, proposals will be accepted as to how to allocate this funding through various programs to support persons with disabilities.
Mr. Tan calls on the public and commercial sector to partner on ideas on initiatives to improve Smart Nation initiatives specific to these groups. Expanding on remarks made by a Parliament visitor with disabilities, Mr Tan agreed that there should be a roadmap created to implement the proposed ideas to further assure the public.
Moving forward, Singapore government must continue to add IT services that cater to these populations. This will bring the community together in its Smart Nation vision.