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Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) Charity Banquet 2019, on 13 March 2019, 7.30pm, at Mandarin Orchard Hotel

13 Mar 2019

Mr Choo Chek Siew, President of the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

     Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to join you for the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) Charity Banquet 2019.

2    This year marks SAVH’s 68th year of service to the visually impaired community. 
a. In presenting Budget 2019 this year, I announced the Merdeka Generation Package. SAVH was founded as the Singapore Association for the Blind in 1951, so that makes the Association part of the Merdeka Generation!
b. Like the Merdeka Generation, SAVH has been contributing to our society, helping the visually impaired to acquire new skills and increase self-reliance. 
c. Over the years, SAVH has expanded its services from education to vision rehabilitation, accessibility and mobility training, skills development, and counselling. 
i. Back in 1956, SAVH set up the Singapore School for the Blind. The school grew over time, and is now commonly known as the Lighthouse School. 
ii. SAVH has also been developing support facilities. It set up a Low Vision Clinic, which offers people with different levels of vision impairment the benefits of low vision devices, to maximise one’s remaining vision. SAVH subsidies the services at affordable rates for clients who are financially in need.
d. Today, SAVH serves over 4,000 clients, who benefit from a range of services.

3     With a growing ageing population, more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment, and the demand for support services will grow.
a. Visual impairment among the elderly can pose new physical challenges to their daily activities. From what may seem like a simple task before, the elderly could face new difficulties in their movements, and are at higher risk of falls. 
b. The loss of vision not only affects the elderly physically but can also cause mental stress as they adjust to a new way of life. 

4     We must continue to help the visually impaired and meet new needs. Let me touch on three ways in which we can do so:
a. First, SAVH to continue the good work to improve the lives of the visually impaired; 
b. Second, the community can work together in closer partnerships to build a caring and inclusive society; and 
c. Third, the Government will continue to play an enabling role to support philanthropy and volunteerism. 

SAVH to Continue to Improve the Lives of the Visually Impaired 

5     Let me first touch on improving the lives of the visually impaired. This will help them to develop independence and contribute back to the society. I encourage SAVH to continue the good work it has done and expand its services to benefit more clients. 

6     Enabling our visually impaired to have greater access to facilities is one way to increase their independence and maintain links with the community. 
a. The SAVH offers a range of rehabilitation services in Orientation and Mobility. 
i. For instance, there is training in the use of white cane techniques, which enables a visually impaired person to move around more freely and independently.
b. There are also other efforts to improve barrier-free accessibility in our public transport system and infrastructure. This will benefit not only the visually impaired but also those who are less mobile.
i. Today, more than 95% of our bus stops and public buses are wheelchair-accessible. Our target is for all public buses to be wheelchair-accessible by 2020.
ii. In January 2019, LTA started a trial on Mobility Assistance for the Visually-Impaired and Special Users mobile app. This provides audio announcements at bus stops and in buses to help commuters with special needs. 
iii. These measures also contribute to a more liveable environment for our community as a whole.

Closer Partnerships to Build a Caring and Inclusive Society

7     Second, besides SAVH, we will also need the community – including our volunteers, corporates and donors – to work together in closer partnerships to build a caring and inclusive society. 
a. The 3rd Enabling Masterplan from 2017 to 2021 charts Singapore’s course to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, support caregivers, develop the capability and capacity in the disability sector, and build an inclusive society.
b. Indeed, everyone has a role to play.

8     To build a caring and inclusive society, we must first understand and empathise with persons with disabilities. Being emphatic allows us to better understand and support them.
a. The National Council of Social Service conducted a study on public attitudes towards persons with disabilities in 2015. More than one third of the respondents said that they would not or are hesitant to employ persons with disabilities if they were an employer.
b. However, the survey also found that public attitudes towards persons with disabilities were better with a higher frequency of contact. 
c. The SAVH has been offering a “Dining in the Dark” experience in a restaurant setting. 
i. Here, a sighted person can experience what it is like to be blind, and appreciate the challenges that the visually impaired face in their daily lives. At the same time, they get to interact with the visually impaired clients who prepare and serve meals. 
ii. This initiative also allows the clients to acquire skills and be employable.

9     Another important aspect of building a caring and inclusive society is volunteerism.
a. Over the years, SAVH has built a pool of volunteers. One of the places that they help out at is SAVH’s Day Care Centre for the Blind. 
i. Volunteers engage the visually impaired in physical and mental activities while their families or caregivers are at work. This helps to enhance their overall physical, social and mental well-being.
b. Whether you are abled-bodied or have a disability, you can help others. In fact, SAVH’s volunteers and clients have been exemplifying the spirit of volunteerism.
i. Earlier, President Choo shared about a recent event where both the volunteers and clients visited old folk’s homes and others. This illustrates how persons with disabilities can make meaningful contributions as well.

10    It is heartening to see how everyone is seeking to do the best and we have many inspiring examples in Singapore. 
i. Our para-athletes have made us proud at international competitions. For example, visually impaired athlete Emily Lee won Singapore’s first medal in cycling at the Asian Para Games last year with her co-pilot Sarah Tan. 
ii. Some of you may recall the heart-warming performance that the busking duo of Mashruddin Saharuddin and his son Nazaruddin gave at the National Day Parade last year. Mr Mashruddin is blind from birth, but that has not stopped him from overcoming adversity and performing music.
iii. Dr Yeo Sze Ling, an alumnus of Lighthouse School, started losing her vision from age of four but that has not stopped her from graduating top of her cohort, clinching a scholarship with A*STAR and completing her PhD in Mathematics. In an interview , Dr Yeo said that the help and opportunities that others gave her made a lot of difference. I hope that our society continues to help those in need. 

11     Besides individual volunteers, corporates can also play a part, by engaging actively in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.
a. I attended the Champions of Good Conferment Ceremonies run by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre in the last two years.
i. Champions of Good are companies that are not just exemplary in their corporate giving efforts, but have also been multipliers by engaging their stakeholders to create impactful and sustainable CSR initiatives. I hope that more companies can become Champions of Good. 
b. Corporates can support SAVH and their clients. Many of you would have heard about SAVH’s In-House Massage Service and Mobile Massage Team. The team has been around for more than twenty years and corporates can tap into their services.
i. My Ministry has been engaging the team regularly for a few years now. In fact, the masseurs were at my Ministry just two days ago to provide their services, as welfare for staff who have worked hard on the Budget. I dropped by and had a chat with them. The masseurs were very enthusiastic and cheerful, and our colleagues appreciated their good work. 
ii. Each of the masseurs has an inspiring story. Take Mdm Rosie Wong for example. She is a 70-year-old grandmother of two married children. She has a great zest for life and has even scaled Mount Kinabalu, in spite of her disability. She keeps herself active by taking up self-improvement classes.

The Government to Play an Enabling Role 

12     Third, the Government will continue to play an enabling role to support philanthropy and volunteerism. 
a. I had announced at the Budget, the Bicentennial Community Fund, which will provide dollar-for-dollar matching for donations made to Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs), which includes SAVH, in the coming year. 
i. This is on top of the existing 250% tax deduction on qualifying donations. This means that effectively, every dollar donated can draw a Government contribution of up to $3.50.
b. Under the Business and IPC Partnership Scheme (BIPS) introduced in 2016, businesses will enjoy a 250% tax deduction on qualifying expenditure incurred when they send their qualifying employees to volunteer and provide services to IPCs.
ii. At last year’s Budget, I also extended this scheme until December 2021. I hope that you will make good use of this scheme and give your employees some time off to volunteer at IPCs.

13      I know that there are many of you here who want to do more for those who need help. That is also one of the reasons why the Government launched the SG Cares movement in 2016, to support efforts in building a more caring and inclusive home for all, through everyday acts of consideration and care, and active volunteerism.


14      To conclude, we must continue to improve the lives of the visually impaired and persons with disabilities. The community can work together in closer partnerships to build a caring and inclusive society. At the same time, the Government will continue to play an enabling role to support such efforts, philanthropy and volunteerism. We can all contribute in different ways that will enable those in need to see beyond their circumstances and live their lives to the fullest.

15      Let me now extend my thanks to the organising committee and all the volunteers who have made this evening’s charity banquet possible, and also for all the good work that all of you have done over the years. I hope SAVH will continue its good work, expand its services, and serve more clients in the years to come.