Through her advocacy work, Yong Yong is committed to promoting an inclusive and accessible society for persons with disabilities. There is more that can be done in Singapore, she points out, whether it’s building better infrastructure to include accessibility and family-friendly features, digital inclusion via the development of assistive technology, a holistic approach to employment of people with disabilities, or caregiver support for families.
In 2014, Yong Yong became the first wheelchair user to have a seat in the Singapore Parliament when she was appointed a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), serving two consecutive terms until 2018. In her time in Parliament, she also frequently highlighted the challenges faced by those with disabilities, and the need to shift mindsets to build greater understanding.
Today, Yong Yong serves in different capacities at various organisations, including SPD, SG Enable, HDB, as well as the Ministry of Social and Family Development Singapore. She’s also on the steering committee for Enabling Masterplan 2030, which aims to facilitate further disability inclusion in Singapore by 2030.
She continues to represent Singapore in regional and international disability conferences, and most recently went to Geneva in August as part of a government delegation to attend Singapore’s first dialogue with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Inclusivity is not a choice
For Yong Yong, life is finally coming full circle, as her experience as a lawyer informs her advocacy work. “Everything just started falling into place for me, when I was able to see that law can be used to create a positive impact on the lives of people. If only we [are able to] change the way we view the work that we do.”
The introduction of schemes such as the Mental Capacity Act and the Professional Deputies and Donees scheme have helped her achieve a greater social impact through active community legal outreach.
The practising lawyer and consultant believes that beyond building the hardware, the onus to build an inclusive society begins with each citizen.
We need to ask ourselves plenty of hard questions, she says: “Where are we in terms of acceptance of persons with disabilities? How do we nurture more parents, teachers, and friends to support other persons with disabilities? How do we keep our systems open and available to people with differing types of disabilities to empower them to level the playing field? How do we recognise the spectrum of disabilities and abilities, and design jobs so that we don’t fit square pegs into round holes?”
She refers to the term “social compact”, which urges people to look inwards at their own behaviour, and principles of right and wrong.
“The social compact is not a choice – it’s not akin to someone choosing to buy a handbag or phone,” explains Yong Yong. “It is an integral part of our citizenship right and obligation,” she continues. “Far from thinking that if I were involved in volunteer work today, I am doing somebody a favour – I see it in a manner in which I am only fulfilling my obligation to my fellow citizens, just as one day, hopefully, another citizen will fulfil his or her obligation towards me.”
Yong Yong (second from left) at a 2022 United Nations dialogue, pictured here with John Lim (first deputy secretary, Ministry of Social and Family Development), Eric Chua (senior parliamentary secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) and Kim Mi Yeon (Vice Chair of the UN Committee On the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)