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Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, at the Official Opening of SPD@Jurong

10 May 2014

Ms Chia Yong Yong, President of the Society for the Physically Disabled,

Board members of SPD,

My parliamentary colleagues,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. It is with great pleasure that I join you this morning for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) and the opening of SPD@Jurong.

2. SPD is a wonderful story: of how a voluntary body formed by a few individuals started small, grew, adapted to new needs over the years, and has altogether done great service for citizens with disadvantage and helped make Singapore a better place. From its beginnings in a zinc-roofed sheltered workshop that enabled persons with disabilities to do carpentry, it is now one of our most established VWOs, with four well-equipped centres island-wide. It has also expanded beyond helping those with physical disabilities, to more than 20 programmes and service that include support for young children with autism and other learning disabilities.

3. The opening of SPD@Jurong is a further step in this journey of passion and service. It is a much-welcomed move, and will help us support families in the western part of Singapore who have children with disabilities.

Early intervention for children with learning disabilities

4. In particular, SPD@Jurong is doing great work in early intervention support for children through two key programmes, the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (or EIPIC) and the Development Support Programme (or DSP).

5. The first programme, EIPIC, helps infants and young children with moderate to severe learning disabilities by intervening early to help them improve their cognitive and motor functions, and their social skills. Early intervention gives them the best chance of leading fulfilling lives when they grow up.

6. Take Tara Lee, for instance, who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She was referred to SPD@Jurong’s EIPIC programme in October 2012 when she was about 3 years old. She was unable to verbalise her needs and wants, and had difficulty interacting with others. Tara has made much progress with the support of her teacher and dedicated speech and occupational therapists. We now see in Tara a more confident child, able to speak a little, recognise alphabets and common words, and with basic skills such as counting, sorting and imitating others.

7. The second programme, DSP, helps children with mild developmental delays by allowing them to receive therapy and learning support in their childcare centres or kindergartens. SPD has made much progress in its DSP here in Jurong.

8. In just several months, the DSP team has worked out arrangements with 39 preschool centres to reach out to children and families who may require its services.

9. It has also started running the DSP in 20 centres.

Providing support beyond children’s needs

10. SPD has also been a boon to caregivers, providing them training, counselling, financial assistance and referrals to other community organisations.

11. A good example is Qistina and her main caregiver, her grandmother, Madam Asmaniah. Qistina, who has cerebral palsy, is one of the children in SPD@Jurong’s EIPIC programme. Besides providing Madam Asmaniah with caregiver training, SPD recently connected her with a social enterprise to help her pick up handicraft skills and sell her craftwork. Arrangements were made for the handicraft coaching to take place at SPD@Jurong, during Qistina’s therapy sessions, so that Madam Asmaniah could use her time meaningfully while waiting.

Collaborative approach to developing talent in the social service sector

12. I want to take this opportunity to also recognise SPD’s contributions to developing capabilities in the broader social service sector.

13. SPD recruits and trains therapists as a resource for other VWOs under the SPD Therapy Hub programme. Starting in 2005, the Hub now has more than 50 therapists, of whom more than 20 have enjoyed opportunities to serve at other VWOs. (These stints could last around one year.) This collaborative approach is an important way in which the sector can attract and retain good people: the therapists can enjoy greater career development by being part of a larger network and being exposed to a wider range of VWOs and clients. This rotation of therapists through different VWOs has also spurred the spread of best practices and higher standards of care.

14. The Government is therefore supporting this collaborative approach to developing fulfilling careers in the social services sector. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) are currently working with SPD as well as Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities to help fund and expand their respective Therapy Hubs.

15. SPD has also made other efforts to share its knowledge and expertise with others in the disability sector:

16. Its DSP team, for instance, runs monthly workshops for pre-school teachers to equip them with a better understanding of the learning difficulties and behavioural issues that children with developmental delays face.

17. Its Specialised Assistive Technology Centre has raised awareness and provided training in use of assistive technology and devices, for personnel from special education schools and healthcare professionals.

Partners, donors and volunteers

18. It takes each and every one of us – not just family members but community volunteers, our schools, employers and the Government – working hand in hand to make it possible for persons with disabilities to have full and meaningful lives.

19. This spirit of community is very much alive this morning. Many of you in the audience participated in the overnight walk from SPD’s headquarters in Tiong Bahru to SPD@Jurong as a show of support for SPD and the people and families it serves.

20. Many individuals and organisations have also made other contributions to SPD@Jurong.

21. If you take a tour of the centre later, do look out for the colourful murals painted by volunteers, including students and faculty members from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Some of them are also present to help out at this morning’s event.

22. A group of youngsters, called Heart2Climb, aim to scale the Himalayas later this month to raise $50,000 for SPD.

23. Among organisations: CapitaLand Hope Foundation has equipped two therapy rooms in SPD@Jurong; Overseas Academic Link Pte Ltd and Kowloon Club also support SPD’s activities; NatSteel is sponsoring bursaries for students with disabilities as well as for students whose parents are disabled; and Microsoft is helping with IT training.

24. There are many other volunteers and donors who have contributed one way or another, and inspired others to do the same.


25. SPD@Jurong is therefore about many people, efforts and contributions – the many voluntary deeds that make this whole enterprise all the more meaningful. My heartiest congratulations to SPD on its 50th anniversary!