Singaporean 'village' takes holistic approach to enabling lives

September 29, 2022 - 15:04

Inside the village's conference hall on a Monday afternoon, Josh Tseng, a person with visual impairment, and his colleague Aaron Yeoh distributed special goggles to a group of Impact Media fellows on a visit to the facilities. 

Visitors at a community space in the Enabling Village, which is wheelchair-accessible and equipped with induction loops for hearing aid. — Photos courtesy of Singapore International Foundation

Nhật Hồng

SINGAPORE — For the past seven years, the Enabling Village has taken a holistic approach to inclusion by offering support to people with different types of disabilities and the stakeholders in their environment. 

Inside the village's conference hall on a Monday afternoon, Josh Tseng, a person with visual impairment, and his colleague Aaron Yeoh distributed special goggles to a group of Impact Media fellows on a visit to the facilities. 

This is part of a simulated social experience they helped design and have been delivering for the past seven years. It helps people understand how the village's architecture benefits people with disabilities.

With the goggle limiting their vision, pairs of visitors joined an activity that combines crosswords and treasure hunts, taking them around the inclusively-designed compound.

Yeoh said: "We design such experiences together with visually impaired individuals, as they will know the kind of message they would want the sighted people to have."

Having toured the village with a guide shortly before, visitors could now experience the village through a visually-impaired person's eye and compare it with their own. 

One of the fellows said: "This activity made me realise why the corridor has no step at all.

"I never truly realise how much a spacious, no-step walkway means for the visually impaired until I put these goggles on."

A pair of Impact Media fellows stop in front of a disability-friendly supermarket in the Enabling Village. 

Opened in December 2015, the Enabling Village was repurposed from the former Bukit Merah Vocational Institute in Lengkok Bahru, a small neighbourhood in Redhill, Singapore.

Spanning an area of 30,000 square metres, the facility was established to become the first stop for disability and inclusion in Singapore. 

Ku Geok Boon, Chief Executive Officer of SG Enable - the agency behind Enabling Village, said: "Persons with disabilities make up a small proportion of our local population, but their disabilities and corresponding needs are diverse. 

"Much of our work also involves building an inclusive society, so persons with disabilities are better enabled to live, learn, work and play independently."

According to recent statistics from the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower, approximately 30.1 per cent of persons with disabilities are employed, while 66.2 per cent are outside of the labour force and 3.8 per cent are without jobs.

Working to address this matter, SG Enable has been providing support to persons with disabilities and employers while also preparing the environment to sustain their employment in the long term.

The village now features an information and career centre, training facilities and designated worksites for persons with disabilities, different structures for healthcare, assistive technology, and caregiver support, and an art shop and various restaurants open to all.  

"Tenants of Enabling Village include social businesses that train and hire persons with disabilities, and these businesses also showcase the works of persons with disabilities when visitors shop or dine here," said Ku. 

Meanwhile, for Lim Chwee Hoon, whose daughter is on the autism spectrum and is employed at Eden + Elie in the village, the caregiver space makes an excellent waiting area while her daughter is at work.

Lim said: "I am able to do my work or rest at the Caregivers Pod, instead of travelling home and back. It helps me cut down on transport costs.

"It is a conducive environment for both my daughter and me." 

Sharing the same sentiment, Poon Wan Sin, mother of an autistic child, said: "The Enabling Village model is a good concept. 

"It would be great to replicate it elsewhere to make it more accessible to more persons with disabilities." 

However, despite these achievements and the multiple successful inclusive prototype models, there is still a lack of disability awareness. Many persons with disabilities still face challenges in accessing essential services such as healthcare and banking, noted SG Enable's CEO.

She added: "With our public education efforts, we also hope more people will recognise abilities, take positive action for disability inclusion and commit to building a more inclusive society and enabling lives."

To do this, it takes a village. — VNS

This story came about with the support of the Singapore International Foundation through the Impact Media Fellowship, which is designed to equip participants with the skills and resources to envision and enable positive social change in their communities.