No clear data on disability situation in Singapore

SINGAPORE - Just how many Singaporeans are disabled is unclear, which has prompted calls for better data.

Singapore has about 97,200 people with disabilities, with the vast majority - 77,200 - above 18 years old, according to 2010 data from the Health and Education ministries.

However, no one knows the exact number for sure.

This is because there is no official central registry of the disabled here or comprehensive disability study done. Current figures also do not accurately capture the full population of people with disabilities.

This problem of not having specific data had been flagged in the Enabling Masterplan 2007 and 2012. Both editions of the national blueprint for improving disability programmes called for a study to determine the prevalence rate of disabilities in Singapore.

Disability advocates agree that some form of study should be done to help the authorities better meet the needs of the community.

"Statistics are important. When you know the numbers, then you know how to plan," says Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley, 79, who founded the Disabled People's Association.

"But if you don't know the numbers, people can sit back and say (services and programmes are) too expensive. We are a very pragmatic nation, so let's look at the numbers. How many of our people are deprived? We won't know otherwise."

Handicaps Welfare Association president Edmund Wan agrees it will be beneficial to know such figures. "Then we can target help. Is it a growing problem in this sector? We really don't know," he says.

The current figures are based on two aspects: First, the number of people who use disability services provided by government agencies. But this does not capture people who do not use such services.

It was for this reason that the Central Registry of Disabled Persons closed in 1987.

Disabled people who did not access government services had no incentive to register. Keeping the register current had also been a problem, says the Enabling Masterplan report.

Second, current figures are also extrapolated from the proportion of children below the age of seven who are diagnosed every year with patterns of developmental problems - about 1,400, or 3.2 per cent of the cohort.

But this may be inaccurate as some children may not be diagnosed. Furthermore, it may not be representative of older segments of the population, says the report.

According to 2010 data from the Health and Education ministries, about 7,000 pre-school-aged children are disabled. Another 13,000 young people between seven and 18 years old have disabilities. Of these, about 7,600 go to mainstream schools and 5,400 to special education ones.

Furthermore, because definitions of disabilities vary between countries, Singapore cannot rely on the number of disabled people in other countries as a "reliable benchmark", cautions the report.

Asked if a national study to address these issues is being carried out, a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development replied that it "continues to engage and work closely with the relevant stakeholders in developing a continuum of options, in early intervention, work or care, to meet the diverse needs of persons with disabilities".

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