SUSS Service-Learning & Community Engagement Sectors: Diversity & Inclusion

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in his address during the 2016 Pre-University Seminar, stated that, “the Singapore 20 years from now will be an innovative and deeply inclusive one… a society that is bound together and at home with itself.” 1

How are we faring now in achieving this vision? We will explore deeper into issues impacting the following communities:

  1. Persons with disabilities
  2. Migrant workers

Persons with Disabilities

Singaporeans are living longer but those aged 60 and above will spend 3 to 8 years of their lives with some form of disabilities.2 According to United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)’s definitions of “disability” and “person with disabilities” (PWD), persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, when in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

Disability is defined as the result of the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

The Enabling Masterplan was rolled out in 2007 by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). It is a five-year roadmap for the government and the community to work together in addressing the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Singapore. There are many facets that has been addressed in the Blueprint: from early detection, education, employment, public transportation and infrastructure, and support services. The Enabling Masterplan 2017-2021 envisions Singapore to be a caring and inclusive society where persons with disabilities are empowered to achieve their fullest potential and become contributing members of society. Its next iteration is the Enabling Masterplan 2030.

While disability inclusion is a continuing effort, with targets such as all ActiveSG gyms to become inclusive set by 202612, we all could be a part of addressing these core challenges preventing persons with disabilities from achieving their fullest potential:

1) Physical barriers impacting on self-care and daily living

Accessibility is one basic challenge faced by persons with disabilities. Physical structures like kerbs, stairs, lack of availability of accessible and affordable transportation deter them from social access to basic school, work and public facilities.

Though there has been increasing awareness and practice of universal design for people of diverse needs; in many public spaces, there is still lack of "barrier-free" design features. Steep slopes, narrow and uneven pathways still restrict daily movement for wheelchair users. In train stations, the structural designs of lift doors and platforms make movement challenging for the physically challenged and wheelchair users. The situation becomes worse when general public is not willing to give way to them. Building facilities such as tactile tiles and toilets specially for people with disabilities seek to alleviate these challenges. However such facilities can be blocked, locked or misused by able-bodied people. Built environment that are created without understanding the unmet needs of the physically challenged will also impair them.

2) Mental barriers

Able-bodied people might think about persons with disabilities as being saddled with biological deficits, and that they are frail and homebound. People with disabilities themselves might think they cannot step out into the society effectively. This mental barrier is thus two-way, one from the general population and the other from the people with disabilities. This contributes to social barriers.

3) Social barriers

As a result of both mental and physical barriers described above, social barriers could hold PWD back from stepping out, and being seen and actively involved in activities in the community. Because of this shying away, others may see less of a need to cater to and include people with disabilities in the community. A vicious cycle is thus formed.

Intervention and Improvement

The Ministry of Family and Social Development (MSF) and its agency, SG Enable, as well as Social Service Agencies (SSA) such as Special Olympics Singapore, form the key stakeholders that cater to the different types of disabilities-groups and how to integrate them in society. In 2014, a S$30 million Open Door Programme3 was introduced to help people with disabilities train and look for jobs, and to defray employers’ costs in supporting them. In 2021, the New Enabling Employment Credit was launched to provide up to 30 per cent wage offset for employers of people with disabilities till 202512.

Despite such efforts, there is much more that can be done. A study carried out by Lien Centre for Social Innovation SMU Change Lab in 2015, showed that there is a pressing need for greater public awareness on disability issues. To work towards inclusion for PWD, we have to change the way society view them as being recipients of care, dependent on social services and other caregivers to independent individuals with a unique set of challenges facing them. 

Migrant Workers

There are nearly one million low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, out of a workforce of 3.7 million and a population of 5.6 million.4 Most of them are work permit holders

employed as construction workers or domestic helpers. Those who do manual work receive low pay and live in dormitories. They do not have family support in Singapore and mainly turn to key Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) like Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) for help when they encounter problems.

These NGOs render diverse assistance to these low-wage migrant workers, and note that the common problems faced by these workers are work-related injuries, salary and employment related disputes, and poor working conditions. According to the statistics by Workplace Safety and Health Institute, there were 66 work fatalities in Singapore in 2016.

In the same year, 16,000 workers also suffered injuries.5

While a 2011 survey by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) report reveals that 81% of Singaporeans were aware of laws that aim to provide equal treatment of national and foreign workers in employment and working conditions, perceptions differed in spirit - 58% of the same respondents felt that authorized migrant workers could not expect the same pay and working conditions as nationals for carrying out the same job13.

To uplift the quality of life for migrant workers that could be hampered by the above issues, NGOs provide support services such as shelters for domestic helpers; training in vocational skills, low-cost medical and dental care, as well as free legal advice. Other community stakeholders help raise awareness of the migrant workers’ plight by engaging various groups such as polytechnic and university students in advocacy work.


  1. Sin, Y. (2016, May 31). Singapore in 2035: Inclusive and innovative. The Straits Times.
  2. SPD. (2018). Disability facts and figures. facts-figures/
  3. Kok, XH. (2014, Apr 25). S$30m more to help disabled with employment. Today.
  4. Ministry of Manpower. (2020, April 29). Foreign workforce numbers. Singapore Government Agency. workforce-numbers
  5. Carvalho, R. (2017, Mar 4). Migrant workers’ cases in Singapore more shocking than in Hong Kong, photographer claims. South China Morning Post. migrant-workers-more-shocking-singapore
  6. Enabling Village (2015). What is universal design.
  7. Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2017). Enabling masterplans. Singapore Government Agency. Needs/Pages/default.aspx
  8. Raghunathan, Ranjana; Balakrishnan, Balambigai; Smith, Catherine J.; & Md Kadir, Mumtaz. (2015). People with physical disabilities in Singapore: Understanding disabling factors in caregiving, education, employment and finances. SMU Change Lab. Lien Centre for Social Innovation: Research. article=1007&context=lien_reports
  9. Goy, P. (2016, December 21). Prevalence of disabilities in different age groups revealed. The Straits Times. in-different-age-groups-revealed
  10. Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2018, January 4). Disabilities & special needs. Singapore Government Agency. Special-Needs/Pages/default.aspx
  11. Ho, A. (2013, March 17). Disability: A social issue to be treated with care. The Straits Times. with-care
  12. Goh, Y. H. (2022, May 27). Milestones in disability inclusion in Singapore. The Straits Times.
  13. Tunon, M., & Baruah, N. (2020). Public attitudes towards migrant workers in Asia. Migration and Development, 1(1), 149–162. DOI:

Reference (for Infographics):

  1. Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2018, January 4). Disabilities & special needs. Singapore Government Agency. Special-Needs/Pages/default.aspx
  2. Teng, A. (2016, Nov 4). Children with moderate to severe special needs to be part of Compulsory Education Act. The Straits Times. special-needs-to-be-part-of-compulsory

Tags:Diversity and Inclusion



Facts and Figures


Contact Us

If you would like to know more information regarding the different Service-Learning sectors, please contact us at

Back to top