From Strength to Strength
Allan Cai loves making people happy with his infectious energy and positivity for life. Born with Down Syndrome and faced with multiple medical conditions growing up, his cheerful manner belies a steely resilience as an active advocate for Persons with Disabilities (PWIDs).
Allan has been a part of the MINDS family since he was six. He was also one of the first members of ‘Our Lives, Our Voices’ (OLOV), a self-advocacy programme jointly organised by the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) and MINDS, to nurture confidence and independence in individuals with special needs. The programme aims to empower them to learn about their rights, how to speak up for themselves and exercise ownership over their quality of life.
Allan has come a long way since graduating from the Lee Kong Chian Gardens School in 2016. Despite his hearing and speech limitations, Allan has been a voice representing the disabled community at local and international conferences. He first represented OLOV in 2018, at the “Having A Say Conference” in Geelong, Australia, where he shared how people with Down Syndrome are not disabled but just ‘differently-abled’.
The 24-year-old is also the proud recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards (UBS Promise) 2021, and part of the Purple Parade 2021, Singapore’s largest movement to support inclusion and celebrate the abilities of PWIDs.
Through his experience, Allan hopes that Singapore will be a more accepting and socially inclusive society. He shared, “I hope that there will be more opportunities to support and include people with disabilities in everyday life, from school to work to various social aspects. I hope my friends will never give up and always learn to respect one another.”
Learn more about how Allan found his voice as an advocate for special needs, his thoughts on active citizenry and his hopes for a more inclusive society.
1. What does the Goh Chok Tong Enable Award (UBS Promise) 2021 mean to you?
Receiving the Goh Chok Tong Enable Award means a lot to me. It encourages my friends and I to continue believing in ourselves, to work hard and never give up! It was an honour to meet President Halimah Yacob and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. I promised them that I would continue to be an active advocate for a more inclusive Singapore. I will continue to work hard to serve the community through my work with OLOV.
I am grateful to be surrounded by wonderful supportive people who believe in me – from my family and friends to my colleagues and the OLOV community. Over the years, the OLOV community has given me several opportunities to speak up as a Self-Advocate.
In 2018, during my first session at the “Having A Say Conference” in Geelong, Australia, I spoke about how people with Down Syndrome should be out there advocating for themselves, to help people realise that we are not disabled but just differently-abled. Since then, I began to understand the importance of of letting your voice be heard, and I cherish every opportunity to speak up for myself and my community.
2. What does it mean for you to be an active citizen of Singapore?
The OLOV Programme has empowered us to speak up, express our feelings and thoughts, and take ownership of our choices and decisions.
I want to be a voice for our community and speak up on issues related to PWIDs. I want to raise awareness among the general public that we can be independent, lead happy fulfilling lives, learn new things and pick up new skills. With greater awareness of what PWIDs can do, I hope to encourage our society to be more understanding, supportive and inclusive.
3. How do you want to be more involved in decisions concerning your community?
I want to be involved in sharing sessions, discussions, feedback, and the planning of matters related to PWIDs.
I am honoured to be an inclusion champion at SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling persons with disabilities. There, I participated in a group discussion about how to make the Enabling Village, an inclusive integrated community space in Lengkok Bahru, a better place for us.
Earlier this year, I was thrilled to be selected by MINDS to be part of the Purple Parade Working Committee. I got to share my views when the committee was planning activities and making decisions.
For example, I voted for the t-shirt design not to have any buttons because I know how motor skills like buttoning our shirts can be a challenge. I am grateful that the committee considered my views, and this made me feel respected and heard.
4. Do you think persons with intellectual disabilities are heard on issues concerning them?
We have our dreams and hopes. We want to be accepted and respected, and valued for our contributions too.
My mother has shared that things are much better now as compared to 20 years ago, with more initiatives and facilities specially catered for special needs. I think there is definitely more room for progress and to let our voices be heard. I think our voices will be heard better when more of us become Self-Advocates and speak up on more issues for our community.
5. How can we empower persons with intellectual disabilities to play a more active role in society?
I hope more people in Singapore will support people with intellectual disabilities and believe in us.
For that to happen, I think we need to start by first empowering ourselves to live independently and take ownership of our choices. We must be able to prove ourselves first, before others will share opportunities for us to contribute to society and add value.
At the end of the day, I hope for a more socially-inclusive society where there is mutual respect and support for each other. I hope we can all work towards a more accepting society that embraces people and celebrates our differences!
As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we encourage a deeper understanding of intellectual and developmental disabilities among the community and caregivers.
MINDS provides a holistic environment and inclusive environment for intellectual and developmental disabilities and is committed to enabling PWIDs to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.
The ‘Our Lives, Our Voices’ Self-Advocacy programme provides a safe and nurturing environment to empower PWIDs to learn about their rights and support their development into confident independent individuals who take ownership of their decisions and quality of life. Learn more about OLOV here.