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Singapore Government

Support for Persons with Disabilities in the Justice/Legal/Political System and in Emergency Situations

Support for Persons with Disabilities in the Justice/Legal/Political System and in Emergency Situations

Header banner for Support for persons with disabilities in the justice/legal/political system and in emergency situations, depicting three persons with disabilities standing in a row and holding hands.

Support for Persons with Disabilities in the Law Enforcement System

Since 2013, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) has been training police officers to identify suspects and witnesses with mental disabilities so that necessary assistance can be rendered to them during the course of police investigation.
  • The Police interview these offenders to ascertain their intellectual ability, and speak to family members to find out more about their background, mental and medical conditions.

Since 2015, Appropriate Adult Scheme for persons with Mental Disabilities has been supporting persons with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability and mental health conditions during law enforcement interviews.
  • The Appropriate Adult, who is a trained volunteer, serves as a bridge between the investigation officer and the suspect, victim, or witness being interviewed. During the interview, the Appropriate Adult watches for signs of distress, supports the emotional well-being of the person, and assists in communications.

Support for Persons with Disabilities in the Justice/Legal System

Singapore has introduced amendments to legislaton that supports persons with disabilities

  • The Mental Capacity Act, enacted in 2010, safeguards the interests of those who lose their mental capacity, including persons with intellectual disability.
  • The Central Provident Fund Act was amended in 2011 to provide for the implementation of the Special Needs Saving Scheme, which ensures that the financial needs of children with disabilities can be taken care of through their parents' CPF monies after the death of their parents. 
  • The Building and Construction Authority's Code on Accessibility 2013 mandates buildings to incorporate requirements to cater to persons with different impairments. Under the Building Control Act, the building owners/MCSTs are responsible for ensuring that the barrier-free features/facilities built for persons with disabilities are not obstructed, removed, altered or caused to be unstable. 

Article 12(1) of the Constitution provides that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. This includes persons with disabilities. 
  • Singapore has written laws that support persons with disabilities. Please refer to the preceding section on Singapore’s introduction of amendments to legislation to support persons with disabilities for examples of these laws.

The Legal Aid Bureau (LAB), a department under MinLaw, provides legal aid for civil matters. MinLaw’s partner, Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS), administers the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS), which is co-funded by MinLaw.
  • The provision of legal aid does not discriminate against persons with disabilities.
  • Currently, correspondence with applicants primarily takes place online or over the phone. Some applicants for civil and criminal legal aid may attend appointments in-person and use the facilities at the MinLaw Service Centre (MSC) and the State Courts respectively, both of which have barrier-free access. Two counters at MSC are also equipped with assistive technology for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Apply for civil legal aid or apply for criminal legal aid.

Continued efforts to support inmates with disabilities.
  • Where possible, Singapore Prison Service (SPS) provides rehabilitation opportunities for offenders with disabilities.
  • All prison inmates are housed in units with ready access to medical personnel. Where necessary, prison doctors will admit inmates into medical wards for closer monitoring.
  • Usage of assistive devices like walking and hearing aids are facilitated within the prison institutions, as well as access to sign language interpreters engaged by inmates’ counsels and embassies in the case of inmates who are foreign nationals.
  • Where possible, prison inmates with physical disabilities are housed at lower landings to avoid stairs. Suitable cellmates may also be selected as helpers to assist inmates with disabilities in their daily activities.
  • Officers of SPS are trained to manage the varying needs of offenders, including persons with disabilities.

Support for Persons with Disabilities in Emergency Situations

Frontline responders from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) are trained to conduct evacuation and extrication during emergency incidents.
  • Fire evacuation drills with Homes and hospitals are conducted regularly to familiarise responders and staff with evacuation procedures.
  • SCDF works with operators of premises with large numbers of persons with mobility issues to develop contingency plans, which are exercised and validated at least once every three years.

There are alternative ways for persons with disabilities to communicate with the emergency services.
  • In 2014, the ‘70995’ SMS service was launched, as an alternative to calling ‘995’, to allow members of the public, including persons with hearing loss and/or speech difficulties another avenue for communication with the SCDF.
  • A brochure on Emergency SMS Helpline Services is also available online.
  • In 2016, the ‘71999’ SMS service was launched, as an alternative to calling ‘999’, to allow members of the public, including persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, to seek assistance from the SPF in emergency situations via text message.
  • Since 2016, SCDF and SPF will send SMSes to members of the public who are in the immediate vicinity of a major, localised incident.
  • Since 2016, members of the public can also download the SGSecure mobile application to receive both sound and text notifications in the event of major incidents.

The Fire Code, which sets out the fire safety requirements for buildings in Singapore, requires all buildings to have in place features to facilitate the safe evacuation of persons with disabilities, unless specifically exempted.
  • The Fire Code requires buildings to put in place (i) exit routes and fire lifts that are accessible for wheelchair users, (ii) clearly marked designated holding points on each floor to serve as temporary safe spaces for persons with disabilities to await assistance, and (iii) visual alarms in designated locations to alert the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • These requirements were incorporated after consultation with disability organisations.

Support for Persons with Disabilities to Participate in Elections

Continued efforts to facilitate the voting process for voters with disabilities.
  • Persons with disabilities are eligible to vote on an equal basis as persons without disabilities.
  • Voting areas are barrier-free, and wheelchairs are provided for voters who need them. Within the voting area, priority is given to elderly voters and voters with disabilities. Voters who are visually impaired are provided stencils to mark the ballot paper without assistance, should they wish to do so. Since 2015, ballot papers have also contained photographs to assist with candidate recognition and have been redesigned with better contrast for those with visual impairment.

Support for Persons with Disabilities in the Justice/Legal System

In 2018, Parliament passed the Vulnerable Adults Act (VAA).
  • The VAA seeks to safeguard vulnerable adults (VAs) from abuse, neglect or self-neglect. Under the VAA, a vulnerable adult includes any individual aged 18 years and above who, by reason of their mental or physical disabilities, are incapable of protecting themselves from abuse, neglect, or self-neglect.
  • The VAA allows VAs themselves, their family members, or government social services, to apply for court orders for their protection, where they have experienced, are experiencing, or are at risk of abuse, neglect or self-neglect. These include orders restraining perpetrators of abuse from further abusing a VA, and orders prohibiting perpetrators from communicating with or visiting a VA.

In 2020, the amended Penal Code took effect to ensure criminal laws take a robust approach to prevent and combat exploitation, abuse of, and violence against persons with disabilities.
  • For certain offences committed against vulnerable persons (i.e. individuals who, by reason of mental or physical infirmity, disability or incapacity, are substantially unable to protect themselves from abuse, neglect, or self-neglect), the court may sentence the offender to enhanced punishments of up to twice the maximum penalties if the offender knew or ought reasonably to have known that the victim was a vulnerable person.
  • Sections 304B and 304C criminalise causing the death of a vulnerable person by sustained abuse, and causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable person in the same household.
  • Section 376F criminalises the procurement of sexual activity with a person with mental disability.

Support for Persons with Disabilities in Emergency Situations

An inclusive response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our way of life and amplified hurdles for many persons with disabilities. The government has taken a person-centred approach to ensure that those who were affected most receive help, and have worked closely with community partners to engage different disability communities, and provide them with the support they need.

Ensuring accessibility of COVID-19 communications, customising outreach and service delivery to the needs of persons with disabilities.

  • The government worked with partners to explore ways to enhance the accessibility of public communications. To support persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, Singapore adopts subtitling and captioning for non-live programmes, and live signing for key Government communications, including COVID-19 communications, on Free-to-Air television. These signing services are provided in collaboration with the Singapore Association for the Deaf, which is one of several service organisations for persons with disabilities providing live signing and note-taking on their social media platforms for major local events.
  • MSF, SG Enable and NCSS developed a circular to raise awareness among enforcement officers on the challenges that persons with disabilities may face in complying with safe-distancing measures,     
    • The circular aims to help front line staff provide better support to persons with disabilities in practising safe distancing. It provided information on (i) how to recognise and interact with persons with disabilities, (ii) the challenges they may face in wearing masks or observing safe distancing rules, and (iii), encouraged enforcement officers to exercise flexibility towards persons with disabilities who may have inadvertently flouted the rules.
  • Regular check-ins are conducted with clients of disability services and assistance is rendered to families who face caregiving challenges.
  • Through Mediacorp Enable Fund’s C.A.R.E. initiative, SG Enable administered a one-time cash relief to families with multiple persons with disabilities, to help defray daily expenses and last-mile needs. MSF also coordinated food deliveries to vulnerable individuals and families, including persons with disabilities.

New legislation introduced in response to COVID-19 ensured that individuals can continue to assist persons with disabilities where no alternative care arrangements are available.
  • The COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations promulgated in April 2020 under the COVID (Temporary Measures) Act permit individuals to leave their respective places of residence to assist “individuals with disability” in activities of daily living where no alternative care arrangements are available.

New work and training support measures for persons with disabilities, in response to COVID-19.
  • Under the National Jobs Council, the government launched a dedicated workstream on the employment of persons with disabilities.
  • In January 2021, MSF announced the creation of new job and training programmes for persons with disabilities, as part of the workstream under the National Jobs Council.
  • The three new types of programmes are administered by SG Enable, and will complement existing efforts under the Open Door Programme (ODP) to provide employment and training opportunities for persons with disabilities:
    • Place-and-Train (PnT) programmes, where persons with disabilities will be placed with employers and trained for new full-time or contract roles. Employers on the PnT will receive 90% of salary support from the Government for the placements of these persons with disabilities.
    • Attach-and-Train (AnT) programmes, where persons with disabilities will receive on-the-job and structured training by host companies, in temporary attachments and/or traineeships. Persons with disabilities on AnT will receive an allowance benchmarked at 80% of the salary for similar roles. The government will support 70% and the host company the remaining 10% of the allowance.
    • Skills Development Programmes (SDP), where persons with disabilities can attend customised training courses to upskill themselves. Persons with disabilities who attend SDPs will be given a monthly allowance of up to $640 for the duration of the training.
  • Persons with disabilities who participate in any of these programmes will benefit from a 90% course fee subsidy for courses that they attend.
  • In total, MSF and SG Enable aim to create 1,200 employment, traineeships and skills upgrading opportunities for persons with disabilities through its new and existing programmes.

The Government devoted $10 billion to social and household support, with more given to lower- and middle- income households, including persons with disabilities, who were affected by the pandemic. This includes:
  • The Care and Support Package and Solidarity Payment for all Singaporean households.
  • Workfare Special Payment for lower-income workers.
  • Temporary Relief Fund (TRF), COVID-19 Support Grant (CSG) and Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) for workers requiring additional assistance.
  • A 24-hour National CARE Hotline set up to provide emotional and psychological support to anyone facing increased levels of distress, complementing existing phone and online counselling platforms.

Close collaboration and additional support for key disability stakeholders to ensure continuity and safety of disability services.
  • Additional support to disability homes and hostels in light of COVID-19. This includes funding for additional manpower to implement safe management measures, swab tests for residents and staff, support to continue services during the “Circuit Breaker” period, and to provide limited services in community-based settings for clients with higher needs and for caregivers’ respite. [Note: Singapore entered the “Circuit Breaker” period in April 2020, which was approximately two months of enhanced safe distancing measures to slow local transmission of COVID-19. Schools were closed and instruction done via Home-Based Learning and physical workplace premises for non-essential services were also closed.]
  • A 24-hour National CARE Hotline was set up to provide emotional and psychological support to anyone facing increased levels of distress, complementing existing phone and online counselling platforms.

Support for Persons with Disabilities to Participate in Elections

During the 2020 General Election, numerous measures were adopted to further facilitate the voting process for voters with disabilities.
  • Portable lap voting booths were provided to wheelchair users to enable them to mark their ballot papers independently in private. Funnels were installed on top of ballot boxes’ slits to make it easier to slot ballot papers into the boxes, and voting pens were replaced with stamp-pens which made it easier to mark ballot papers.

PwD voting using portable lap booth
A Person with disability using a portable lap voting booth to mark his ballot paper.
Disclaimer: Photo was taken before COVID-19
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