Singapore’s Enabling Village is a community for people with disabilities to find opportunities for jobs, skills, integration in society, or just a familiar world. What can India learn from a community like this?
Every morning, 25-year-old Jernise Pang Gin Wei makes her way to the Enabling Village — a community where people with disabilities are welcomed into an inclusive environment.
Jernise, who has mild autism, has been working at the Employability & Employment Centre (E2C) of the Singapore-based community since 2018, prior to which she was at a special education school.
She is among many welcomed into the safe space at Enabling Village, which — as Ku Geok Boon, chief executive officer at SG Enable tells The Better India — is “dedicated to integrating persons with disabilities in society” since 2015, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officially opened the space in Redhill over a sprawling campus of 30,000 sq-m.
A collective effort to be inclusive
Jernise and her mother Lim Chwee Hoon learnt about Enabling Village in 2018. And they haven’t looked back since, attributing this to the kind of facilities at the community.
“Jernise looks forward to going to work every day and the fact that she is in a safe working environment gives me great peace of mind,” says her mother, adding that whilst Jernise busies herself with her tasks for the day, she remains at the Caregivers Pod, which is on-site.
Describing the space as “excellent”, she goes on to say that being able to remain on campus saves her a lot of transport costs that she would have incurred otherwise.
“I spend my time in the waiting area that is replete with all the facilities that I need, and it is a conducive environment for me to do my work or rest,” she adds.
Like Jernise and her mother, there are numerous other persons with disabilities and their caregivers to whom the Enabling Village has become a world in itself.
As Ku explains, this was the initial aim.
The Enabling Village, she says, was created so that these persons with disabilities could “move independently, feel accepted for who they are, and be valued for their contributions”.
A ‘role model’ project
The success of the Enabling Village rests on three pillars, and countries across the world could take cognisance of it while developing inclusive spaces.
The entire campus is designed in a way that it can be accessed and understood by users regardless of their age, size, ability or disability, says Ku.
Ramps for wheelchair users, lifts installed at multi-storey blocks, and a barrier-free movement system ensures that the space is accessible to persons with disabilities.
Something for everyone
As guests make their way around the Enabling Village, they will observe braille lettering on the washroom doors, staircase handrails and other key signage locations to help guide people with visual impairments.
Additionally, tactile indicators on the floor help guide people who are using a white cane.
For hearing aid users, a hearing loop system ensures all rooms are wired so the hearing aid can automatically connect with the room sound system.
A host of partnerships
Ku says that along with being an inclusive space, Enabling Village also focuses on training persons with disabilities in various programmes and skills.
“It is home to several social businesses staffed by both able-bodied and disabled individuals. They go to demonstrate that people with disabilities can make lively, vital contributions to society,” she says.
She adds that their partnerships with voluntary welfare organisations ensure that members are provided career advice, training, and job placement in some cases.
A social model of empowerment
Those who come to the Enabling Village have a lot to look forward to. There are centres spread across the campus that hone skills and offer training in various aspects.
One of these, Ku says, is the Samsui Kitchen.
“The social enterprise trains persons with physical disabilities, autism, and Down Syndrome to prepare meals for nursing homes, student care centres, hotels and companies,” she says.
Mr Ang Kian Peng, who set up the kitchen in 2018, explains how the model works.
“In the first phase,” he says “trainees learn basic knife skills, how to prepare food, and practise good customer service. The second phase is where they learn to chop, blend and perform other kitchen tasks under the supervision of their mentors.”
He adds that the third and final phase focuses on placing trainees into jobs at hotels, restaurants and commercial kitchens. “However, before this placement, they are assessed to see if they can work independently.”
In 2021, 60 such persons with disabilities were trained at the Samsui Kitchen, and the number has been increasing over the past year, Ku says.
A prospective career path
In May 2022, they also launched the Enabling Academy, wherein people can find job opportunities after taking up courses at the Enabling Village.
This arm of the project was created to provide diverse lifelong learning opportunities for persons with disabilities.
While a job isn’t guaranteed for every course, Ku explains, “Our trainees practise social skills and acquire vocational and employability skills that prepare them for employment opportunities. When a trainee approaches us for employment assistance, they will be assessed first,” she says.
Following this assessment, jobseekers will be guided to identify suitable job opportunities and connect with prospective employers.
“We will assess the job nature, suitability of job tasks, and the accessibility of the workplace. We will also work with the employers to include the use of assistive devices if needed,” she says, adding that once a jobseeker has been successfully matched with a job, on-site coaching is provided to help them integrate into the workplace.
Since the establishment of the Enabling Village in 2015, “an average of 30,000 visitors a month from all walks of life and abilities” have been welcomed. Ku says that today, it has become a well-loved community.
Edited by Divya Sethu