July 4, 2020
Photos by: Caroline Chia and Bryan van der Beek | Words by: Serene Goh
he impact of those who work daily with persons with disabilities is mostly silent — until they stop. Then there’s a ripple effect.
Without therapists, those with disabilities might physically regress, losing their hard-won progress. Without regular social interaction, isolation can exacerbate existing health concerns. Without respite, family caregivers are strained by their responsibilities because they have less support.
Their work is now threatened as they lose funding. About 10 respondents to WhatAreYouDoing.Sg report an erosion of between 30 and 80 per cent in donations as the Covid-19 pandemic hit their corporate donors.
“People think that someone else is already helping, so there is no urgent and apparent need for them to do so. However, we always say that any contribution helps, no matter how big or small.”
Ms Sheena Teo, Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS)
At the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS), established in 1957, there is a very real fear that organisations like theirs could be altogether overlooked.
It’s called a “bystander effect”, noted Ms Sheena Teo, CPAS’ advocacy and marketing executive. “People think that someone else is already helping, so there is no urgent and apparent need for them to do so. However, we always say that any contribution helps, no matter how big or small.”
Most have toiled at their missions steadily for decades, on everything from Down syndrome to Dyslexia. A majority have more than 20 staff and volunteers, and about a third have between 10 and 20.
No Fundraisers, No Funds
Because they can’t organise fundraisers the way they used to, some are worried that their needs might be eclipsed by causes with higher profiles, or setups with the chops for digital marketing.
The Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) does not know when it can even hold another sporting event, and is trying to stem a 30 per cent loss in donations from corporate and individual donors with online fundraising campaigns.
At the same time, to persist in its mission to empower PWDs through sports, it moved training sessions online.
But without drivers to sustain their work, many can no longer hire staff even when they need to. They’ve also had to suspend programmes, and cut wages.
Monetary contributions are the first thing they all say will help. But it isn’t the only currency they accept, said the SDSC: “We welcome the help of volunteers who are willing and able to contribute their time to take up various roles required.”
(Above) Born premature at 33 weeks, Tay Ming Jun has cognitive and developmental issues and has to play catch-up with his full-term peers. He started weekly speech and music therapy at Extraordinary People Ltd in September last year (2019) and has improved by leaps and bounds. From just pointing and grunting to express himself, Ming Jun, now three, speaks English, Mandarin and Hokkien. When mum Jennifer Poh is working from home, elder sister Wan Xuan, 10, takes over guiding his lessons. CAROLINE CHIA
Other than cash, the 24-year-old Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) said, relationships are needed to sustain its community. The donation of time, to engage with its members through activities, will go a long way too. While thankful for reserves to tide them through the immediate period, it echoed a recurring concern among groups that beneficiaries would be hardest hit from a lack of funding.
“We are anxious that these funds and reserves will be depleted if the current situation persists, and we may face the prospect that we can no longer sustain the running of our various programmes and services in its full capacity in time to come.”
A Season of Firsts
Just about all these organisations have taken their programmes online wherever possible. But for many, their centres are where the disabled receive physical therapy, or training. With many now closed or restricted, communities of disabled individuals are becoming hard to reach.
Staff worry most about the wellbeing of their beneficiaries.
Since the 65-year-old Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) halted all social activities and events, its chief concern is that deaf individuals feel isolated.
“For some deaf individuals, SADeaf may be the only place they are able to meet fellow deaf friends who use sign language and have meaningful interaction,” said Mr Teo Zhi Xiong, its staff interpreter. It has had to cancel Sign Language classes, while its Sign Language interpreters and notetakers have not been allowed to provide face-to-face services to support its community.
(Above) Mr Vasulthan Yuogan, 22, was born deaf, and is currently studying IT network and systems at higher NITEC at ITE East. The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) provided sign language interpreters and notetakers, important services that enabled Mr Yuogan access to the content of his lessons at school. BRYAN VAN DER BEEK
Adapting to Covid-19 called for major and swift innovating — not just to reach the disabled, but their family caregivers too, who felt the strain of being the sole support for dependents.
Recognising the severe impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on both physically-challenged persons and their caregivers, Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations (ABLE) pointed out: “Caregivers who look after the needs of their care recipients may experience increased feelings of loneliness and social isolation during this time.”
They need respite care too. “They are critical to maintaining loving and dedicated care for their loved ones who are facing debilitating situations”.
Because rehabilitation was classified as a non-essential service, ABLE set to work on its tele- and video conferencing tools to offer rehabilitation therapy, music therapy and art therapy, as well as care and support for their family caregivers.
Since reopening on June 2, it has resumed serving existing clients on-site, albeit at a reduced capacity, with other programmes and services continuing via Tele-Rehab and Tele-Respite. Rehabilitation consultations over video does not extend to everyone, especially those suffering medical conditions that demand face-to-face services.
Meanwhile, all programmes run online by four-year-old Stroke Support Station (S3), for instance, were techniques they’d never attempted before. The organisation helps stroke survivors “Re-learn and Enjoy Active Living (R.E.A.L.)” for a better quality of life through wellness programmes with social-emotional support, which rebuilds confidence and independence.
Aiming to build mental resilience in stroke survivors and their caregivers, it rolled out several activities during and after circuit breaker, including weekly activity packs with exercises catered for stroke survivors of differing levels of physical capacities, recreation, cognitive activities and relaxation music.
That includes weekly virtual fitness exercises that stroke survivors can easily follow at home. Its team also made regular phone and video calls to see that stroke survivors were in good spirits and health.
“All were new ways of working for us. They are in place to ensure that our stroke survivors are physically and mentally supported.”
In fact, the Association for Muscular Dystrophy Singapore noted that many sufferers already feel isolated at home. Without free access to the agency, those feelings become more acute as they receive little social interaction. Without regular therapy, “the situation has definitely caused many of them to take steps backwards”.
(Above) Daniel Sng, 15, was not diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) until he was six, after his parents noticed he was pulling himself up stairs using the handrails, instead of stepping up with his legs.
The third of four children needs daily physiotherapy with the help of his mother, Mrs Janice Sng, and his younger brother, Caleb. They go through the paces to ensure Daniel’s joints remain flexible and muscles get the proper stimulation. BRYAN VAN DER BEEK
Donations, in addition to funding staff salaries, also provide heavy subsidies directly to beneficiaries, affording them rehabilitation and other services at very low or no cost.
At S3, among others, monetary donations go towards heavy subsidies for stroke survivors with financial difficulties.
“Several programmes and intervention services are not appropriate for online teaching and thus have been put on hold and thus beneficiaries are suffering as a result.”
Ms Katijah Abdul Salam, Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS)
“Several programmes and intervention services are not appropriate for online teaching and thus have been put on hold and thus beneficiaries are suffering as a result,” said Ms Katijah Abdul Salam, fundraising officer at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).
It intends to push what it can raise to support the education of needy dyslexic students. The money will be used as bursaries as donations plummet, she added: “We will also utilise the funding to ensure our 14 learning centres are ready to hold physical lessons while observing safe-distancing measures.”
Watch The City of Good Show: Saving Our Charities every Wednesday at City of Good’s Facebook page. This live stream variety show supports charities from various sectors including arts and heritage, children and youth, disability, and social service. These groups have suffered up to an 80% drop in donations because of the postponement or cancellation of physical fund-raising events. Expect appearances from Singapore’s top talents, Selena Tan, Pam Oei, Siti Khalijah, and Ghafir Akbar entertain, with guests Hossan Leong, Rishi Budhrani, Neo Swee Lin, Lim Kay Siu, Koh Chieng Mun, Chua En Lai, Suhaimi Yusof, and Kumar.
Play your part and support the charities at Giving.sg – The City of Good Show: Disabilities