On 1st and 2nd November 2017, Disabled People’s Association travelled across the world to attend the 2nd Harkin Summit in Washington DC. The Summit that took place over 2 days was truly an eye opening experience. DPA representatives, Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Executive Director), and Sumita Kunashakaran (Advocacy Executive) heard insights from companies such as Microsoft and Walgreens on their hiring practices, as well as the paradigm shifts they went through in order to make their industries more inclusive.
There were also keynote speakers such as Dr Johnetta Cole (from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art) who found common ground between the Civil Rights Movement and current disability advocacy pushes, and Hon. Mike Lake (MP for Edmonton-Wetaskiwin, Canada) who presented alongside his autistic son and talked about the need for a global autism network.
The Harkin Summit definitely served to show that despite Singapore’s advancements in accessibility planning, we still a long way to go in ensuring that persons with disabilities are equally represented in corporate spaces. With the adoption of more inclusive practices, corporations in Singapore can become more diverse, and in turn, more innovative when moving forward. As with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), DPA also hopes that our advocacy and outreach efforts can culminate in having similar anti-discrimination legislation in Singapore.
In the leadup to this trip, DPA also had the opportunity to visit Gallaudet University. With a motto “There is no other place like this in the world”, we were quite inclined to believe it. Gallaudet University is the premier institution of learning, teaching and research for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It is also the go-to source of knowledge about the deaf and signing community – a hub of history, achievement and inspiration.
DPA was even luckier to get a personal tour by fellow Singaporean Phoebe Tay who is a researcher at the university, and had first hand insight into seeing how deaf-space was put into practice: there were free, video relay call services for students to use, all spaces are in a U-shape so that faculty are able to have clear line of sight of signing, and all windows are equipped with see-through glass, as opposed to reflective glass, so students are able to communicate without barriers. It was also quite the experience for us because everyone at Gallaudet knew American Sign Language (ASL) and we needed to have interpreters so we could communicate!
This trip was truly an insightful one, and DPA looks forward to many more learning experiences so that we can bring back best practices and take Singapore to the next forefront in accessibility.