Reliable statistics needed before aid can be rendered

SINGAPORE - It is indeed not an easy task to provide more financial aid for those who are really in need ("Is Govt spending enough on social services?" by Mr John Yeo Kee Chiang; Tuesday).

Singaporeans all play a significant role in helping people with disabilities in different ways, assisting them financially, morally or socially.

Voluntary welfare organisations rely on public donations, apart from government funding.

In order for the Government to help people with disabilities, we need to establish two crucial factors - the definition of disability and the prevalence of people with disabilities in Singapore.

First, the term "disability" is highly contentious as there is no standard and clearly defined operational definition, and it varies from country to country.

In Singapore, the Advisory Council for the Disabled in 1988 defined people with disabilities as "those whose prospects of securing, retaining places and advancing in education and training institutions, employment and recreation as equal members of the community are substantially reduced as a result of physical, sensory and intellectual impairments".

This definition was formulated based on the International Labour Organisation's recommendations on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons in 1983, and the World Health Organisation's interpretation of impairment, disability and handicap in 1980.

Later, the definition was refined to include "developmental disability" in 2004 by the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

This remains the current definition of disability in Singapore.

Second, Singapore does not have an accurate figure on the number of people here with disabilities.

It is based only on extrapolation of the numbers from other countries, proxies and/or surveys of selected age groups (usually from birth to six years of age).

Since the closure of the Central Registry of Disabled Persons in 1987, there has been no official body in Singapore to provide reliable statistics on the prevalence rate of people with disabilities.

With the increase in the number of children with learning disabilities, it is crucial to know the statistics before any assistance can be rendered.

Only then will funding for such services not go to waste.

Arnold Chua Chee Keong