SUSS Service-Learning 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.” Where are we now in achieving this vision? We will look deeper into two issues:

1. Persons with disabilities 
2. Migrant workers

Tags:Diversity and Inclusion


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. 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 latest 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.

To allow persons with disabilities to achieve their fullest potential, the challenges listed below need to be addressed.

1. Physical barriers

One basic challenge faced by persons with disabilities would be accessibility. Kerbs, stairs, and other physical structures usually prevent people with disabilities from accessing certain places, or going about their way. Steep slopes, narrow and uneven pathways pose a problem for wheelchair users. In train stations, the structural designs of doors and platforms make it more challenging for them to get into lifts and trains. The situation becomes worse when no one gives way to them. Having facilities such as tactile tiles and toilets built specially for people with disabilities seek to alleviate these challenges. However such facilities could be blocked, locked or used by able-bodied people. Environments that were created without understanding the needs of the disabled will also impair them.

2. Mental barriers

Most able-bodied people think about the disabled as being saddled with biological deficits, and that they are frail and homebound. People with disabilities themselves 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

Largely resulting from both mental and physical barriers, social barriers hold people with disabilities back from stepping out and being seen and 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. A vicious cycle is thus formed.

Intervention and Improvement

The Ministry of Family and Social Development and its agency, SG Enable, VWOs such as Special Olympics Singapore, form part of the landscape that caters to different types of disabilities and how to include them better in the society. In 2014, a S$30 million Open Door Programme was introduced to help people with disabilities train and look for jobs, and to defray employers’ costs in supporting them.

There is more to 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. It is imperative to shift 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.

Facts and Figures
*Compulsory education from 2019

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. 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 NGOs for help when they encounter problems.

NGOs say that the common problems these workers face 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.

Jolovan Wham, Acting Executive Director of Singapore’s Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, known as HOME, said migrant workers in Singapore are often victims of exploitation, high recruitment fees, and wage theft. This includes non-payment and underpayment of wages as well as wage discrimination, in which workers of different nationalities are paid different rates for equivalent work.

To help address these issues, NGOs provide services such as shelters for domestic helpers, training in vocational skills, providing low-cost medical and dental care, and also provide free legal advice. Others help raise awareness of the migrant workers’ plight by engaging various groups such as polytechnic and university students.

1. Disability defined from Singapore Disabled People’s Association website
2. ST report, Prevalence of disabilities in different age groups revealed, Dec 2016, 10:22AM 3 May 2017
3. On Enabling Masterplan 2017-2021, MSF website
4. From Disability: A social issue to be treated with care, ST published 17 March 2017.
5. Source: Barriers to integrating people with disabilities in mainstream society, from website Serving People with Disabilities (SPD)
6.  People with physical Disabilities in Singapore: Understanding Disabiling Factors in Caregiving, Education, Employment and Finances, a study Lien Centre for Social Innovation SMU Change Lab, 2015, P.34.
7. Source: Foreign workforce numbers, by MOM, last updated 20 March 2017
8. From article Migrant workers’ cases in Singapore are shocking than in Hong Kong, photographer claims, 4 March 2017, 10:55PM, South China Morning Post (International)

Contact Us

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

Back to top