Ms Chia Yong Yong,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to join you this morning for the opening of the second E2Connect Forum.
Ensuring equal opportunities for all in a digital age
2 We mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3rd December, exactly two weeks from today. It is more than just an occasion to raise awareness; it gives us the impetus and the opportunity to reflect on how we can all play a part in building a more gracious and inclusive society for all Singaporeans, and especially those among us who may have disabilities.
3 This mission takes on added significance as we enter a new phase in our social and economic development. Even as technology is profoundly affecting our living, working and social environments, we must strive harder to ensure that everyone has equal access to opportunities, regardless of their background.
4 This has been the promise that we have honoured over the last 53 years, and it is one that we will continue upholding for many future generations of Singaporeans.
The Digital Readiness Blueprint – Opportunities for all in a digital age
5 And, as we all know from the experience of daily living, the future is a digital one.
6 Technology will continue to transform our work, open new and exciting new ways for us to connect with each other, and enrich our lives.
7 But even as we embrace technology, it does pose challenges, and crucially, we must ensure that no one is left behind. That is why my Ministry, the Ministry of Communications and Information, convened the Digital Readiness Workgroup last year.
8 The Workgroup, which was led by Senior Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary, comprised senior representatives from the public, private and people sectors. They have put together a Digital Readiness Blueprint that was launched in June this year. The Blueprint outlines a set of strategies and programmes to help all segments of society access and benefit from technology, so that our people can live more meaningful and fulfilling lives in a digital era.
9 In support of this vision, the Government will do more to help fellow Singaporeans who are persons with disabilities (PWDs), and enable them to use technology to participate actively and fully in our society.
Enhancing the lives of PWDs with infocomm and assistive technology
10 One way to achieve this is through infocomm and assistive technology: it provides PWDs with opportunities for learning and employability, to reach their full potential and fulfil their aspirations.
11 For instance, assistive technology can help PWDs perform tasks more effectively at home and at work. It can help overcome impediments in speech, visual challenges and limitations in mobility. In short, assistive technology can empower PWDs to live full and independent lives.
12 I am looking forward to hearing our keynote speakers’ inspiring stories on how infocomm and assistive technology has made a difference to their lives. Ms Chia Yong Yong has been an excellent example of that for us. She has been a very active Nominated Member of Parliament, and still continues to contribute in significant ways to Singapore. I am also keen to hear more from the (Christopher and Garry) Hills, and I know you are a marvelous example of what can be achieved; and your personal stories have been inspiring to all of us.
13 Their stories, and many others like theirs, are what the Digital Readiness Blueprint is all about and what we seek to achieve: creating a Singapore where there is expanded and enhanced digital access, digital literacy, and digital participation; where the public, private and people sectors work together to uplift the quality of every Singaporean’s life through technology.
Enhancing PWDs’ access to digital enablers
14 Today, I want to give an update on some new initiatives that will help us in this endeavour, and take us further down the path towards this vision.
15 First, we want to help as many PWDs as possible benefit from technology.
16 However, we have received feedback that the purchase of an infocomm and assistive technology device is a significant financial investment; and often, many tries are needed before one is able to choose the device that best suits one’s needs.
17 To help PWDs choose the most suitable device, we will be launching infocomm and assistive technology satellite libraries. These libraries will give PWDs greater access to infocomm and assistive technology devices, so that they can determine the suitability of these devices for their needs, before making the financial commitment to purchase one.
18 The Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA) has worked with SPD to set up these satellite libraries, and helped SPD identify the appropriate infocomm and assistive technology devices that will be made available.
19 The first three libraries will be located at Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and Temasek Polytechnic. I understand that Temasek Polytechnic launched their loan library last Tuesday. I was briefed by Mr Abhimanyau Pal that they found that many of the PWDs are amongst those in the student population, so locating them there in the first instance is an appropriate way to reach out to a wider population segment.
20 With these satellite libraries, we hope that more students with special educational needs will become aware of the potential of assistive technology, and eventually embrace its use.
21 We want to invite more Institutes of Higher Learning to join this effort, to set up similar satellite libraries to benefit their students and others.
Empowering PWDs to participate fully in society
22 Secondly, we will help VWOs integrate technology into their programmes to deliver more effective programmes to their PWD clients, and help them engage fully with society.
23 To this end, IMDA enhanced the Enable IT Programme last year, and VWOs can now receive up to $100,000 in grants. Six VWOs have since benefitted.
24 Fei Yue Community Services is one such beneficiary. Fei Yue runs the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children, which incorporates the use of Timocco, an online interactive gaming solution designed for children with special needs.
25 With Timocco, one of Fei Yue’s clients, a child diagnosed with autistic and global developmental delay, gained skills in daily living and is now able to communicate simply with others. Timocco has also enhanced the child’s interactions with his siblings, by serving as a common medium of play for them.
26 Since the child’s continuous engagement with Timocco, his mother has observed that his interest and participation in activities, as well as social and motor skills, have improved.
Equipping Singaporeans with the skills, confidence and motivation to use technology
27 Thirdly, we want to ensure that every Singaporean has the skills, confidence and the motivation to use technology.
28 Two of our keynote speakers, Christopher and Garry Hills, will be conducting a workshop session for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS).
29 This is part of the IMDA’s efforts to raise awareness of the features and benefits of mainstream infocomm and assistive technology devices. Through such workshops, PWDs can familiarise themselves with these tools and use them to full benefit.
30 300 students, caregivers and teachers from CPAS will be taking part in this workshop conducted by Christopher and Garry, and I encourage everyone to actively participate in this session, which I believe will be a very enlightening one.
Building a Singapore that is a great place to live, work and play for all Singaporeans
31 Ultimately, the true measure of a nation is not just about its economic achievements or its entrepreneurs’ accomplishments; it is equally about how that nation includes and cares for all segments of its society, especially those who may need more help.
32 In this digital age, we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that every Singaporean and every member of our society has access to technologies and the opportunity to create new opportunities and possibilities for themselves.
33 To do this, and to accomplish this, we will need the combined effort of the industry, community organisations and the government, and in particular the community organisations because they are perhaps best placed to address the needs of PWDs and enable them to participate meaningfully in a digital society and digital economy.
34 On our part, the Government is committed to identifying more avenues for collaboration, and would like to invite more companies and organisations to partner us in building an inclusive nation that is a great place to live, work, and play, for all Singaporeans.
35 I wish all of you a very inspiring and fruitful forum. Thank you for inviting me.