The happiest man on Earth is to be found in Singapore.
This bright figure is a 19-year old administrative assistant Allan Cai. Taking his self-proclaimed title along with him, Allan has been taking purposeful strides in public to share his experiences as a self-advocate of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Spreading joy and stories of their own
Allan's advocacy journey sprung out from a pilot programme initiated by Movement for the Intelectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS)
and Down Syndrome Association Singapore (DSAS)
. As its namesake suggests, the 'Our Lives, Our Voices'
project aims to empower those with intellectual and developmental disabilities to voice out their needs and make decisions for themselves.
These decisions are not limited to everyday plans in their lives. Through the project, Allan has gone on to plan an entire itinerary for a holiday to Tokyo Disneyland with his family and friends.
Allan's newfound and comprehensive planning abilities showcases the inclusive approach the 'Our Lives, Our Voices' project takes. Funded by NCSS, the project takes in participants aged 18 years and above, and runs for 12 sessions. The participants learn how to share more about their lives with others on various platforms. They are also encouraged to step up as leaders in self-advocacy groups with support from MINDS and DSAS.
Like Allan, Jaspreet Kaur Sekhon and June Lin joined the 'Our Lives, Our Voices' project in August 2017. Since then, their parents have witnessed renewed confidence in their daughters.
"It has encouraged her to air her views, be more vocal, and to take responsibility," says Jaspreet's mother, Rabiner.
The participants' abilities to express themselves have positively impacted their caregivers and families. "It makes things better for June. It gives her a voice instead of assuming we know what she wants," affirms June's mother, Jean. She also adds that Jean's participation in the initiative has led her to reflect further on the impact of outreach activities, and public sharing as part of advocacy.
Taking their voices across shores
At the 'We Are Able!
' event at Our Tampines Hub in March this year, the three trainees spread word of their aspirations and advocacy efforts to the public. Organised by NCSS for the third year running, the event raises public awareness and celebrates the abilities and contributions of persons with disabilities in society.
Their self-advocacy journey has also taken the trainees beyond Singapore to the 'Having A Say
' conference in Geelong, Australia. Each shared about their experiences with an audience of more than 600 people, adding to the vibrant exchange of ideas on the advocacy movement at the event.
Such sharing sessions and trips are but one aspect of the two-year project in exercising the trainees' learned and lasting skill of self-advocacy.
"Self-advocacy is a collective and conscientious effort to enable Allan to maximise his potential in whatever he is doing,"observes Allan's mother, Shu Yun. "It is not an ad hoc programme, but rather a lifetime project."