In 1980, a small group of persons with disabilities in Singapore, with the help of about 100 volunteers, decided to set up an organisation of persons with disabilities for persons with disabilities. This was motivated by the belief that to further the cause of the disability movement one must engage persons with disabilities in that process, thereby empowering those with disabilities to have a voice of their own. This motto of ‘VOICE OF OUR OWN or – VOX NOSTRA’ was and still is the motto of the Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) and the Disabled People’s Association (DPA).

DPI was formed in Singapore on 4th December 1981 and from those humble beginnings the DPI now has over 100 DPI affiliates in more than 90 countries around the world.

At the first World Congress of DPI in Singapore, which over 450 delegates from 52 countries attended, Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley was unanimously elected as the 1st World Chairman of DPI. During the next four years, Ron, was more often abroad than at home convincing people to set up DPI affiliates in other countries. Now the DPI is a global organisation with Consultative Status category II with United Nations Economic & Social Council, World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation and other UN Agencies.

Singapore’s own Disabled People’s Association was not officially registered until 28th April 1986. Previously it had existed as an ad hoc group under the auspices of 1st World Congress DPI Singapore while carrying the ideas and ideals of the DPI through existing local disability organisations such Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), Singapore Association for Deaf (SADeaf) and Movement for the Intellectually Disabled (MIND).

DPA provides a unique service, that of being the only organisation in Singapore that advocates for all persons with disabilities. Since its founding, DPA members have been in the forefront carrying out the first and third objectives of 2nd Asia-Pacific Regional assembly, namely: To influence decision makers to implement policies and programmes aimed at promoting social integration of persons with disability, and to share experiences concerning disability in order to co-operate in search of better solutions.

Led by then prime minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, the Singapore Government formulated an ‘Agenda for action’, which included setting up six advisory councils to gather public views and suggestions how best to meet the goals and challenges of what he termed the ‘Vision of 1999’. This vision of Singapore highlighted recommendations by the Advisory Council of the Disabled.

Since then there have been significant advances towards making Singapore a more inclusive and accessible society. In 2007, the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (now Ministry of Social and Family Development) announced the Enabling Masterplan 2007-2011 and this was then followed up by the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016. DPA has worked with the Government to ensure that persons with disabilities are involved in policy formation and implementation. As much as has been accomplished there is still some way to go and DPA is committed to working with the Government, other disability organisations and interested stakeholders to realise the vision of Singapore as a society in which persons with disabilities are equal, integral and contributing members of society. DPA is further encouraged by Singapore becoming a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the 30th November 2012. DPA will continue to engage persons with disabilities so that they are an integral and active part of the journey towards a barrier free environment in which persons with disabilities have the same opportunities that persons without disabilities enjoy in Singapore.