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It’s funny how perspectives shift over time.
Sometimes, it happens in weeks: Early this month, news broke over a “dreadful” Tampines BTO colour paint scheme that had netizens sniggering over its hantu vibes and HDB scrambling to repaint the ceilings to make it look less like a haunted house. Two weeks later, it’s a backdrop for stylo photography sessions.
Other times, it takes years before a change is made.
This week, HDB announced that it is launching a pilot scheme to partition the former Anderson Junior College hostel in Ang Mo Kio to create 480 single rooms.
These rooms would be made available to lower-income singles with shared communal facilities – about 12 people to a bathroom and 24 to a kitchen.
Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said that this hostel-like arrangement would maximise space to support as many vulnerable individuals as possible, and to allow for tenants to provide mutual care and support.
I think it’s an excellent stepping stone for needy families towards self-sufficiency and another option for rough sleepers to get a roof over their heads.
Too often, I hear of lower-income families having to squeeze into rental flats, often five or six family members to a room. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes, tenants can’t get along.
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This new scheme allows a measure of privacy for individuals, reducing the potential for friction, while keeping some social interaction (and mutual aid) in the communal areas.
It’s a step in the right direction.
Oscars 2023: Everything is a winner
Another perspective shift is at this year’s Oscars.
Last year, the Oscars were overshadowed by that infamous Will Smith slap.
This year, it’s all about the feel-good feeling with Everything Everywhere All At Once winning the lion’s share of awards – 7 Oscars in all, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh.
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me, watching tonight: this is a beacon of hope and possibility.”
Michelle Yeoh did that!!! A true icon and legend!!! #Oscars pic.twitter.com/E5VYVVcRB1
— SA7AH (@TinyTunney) March 13, 2023
The number of narratives emerging from its win alone is enough for another movie! Everyone on my social media feed is posting Michelle Yeoh memes (she’s amazing), but let’s admit it, she has been amazing since Police Story 3 (1992). I’m glad she’s finally getting the recognition she so richly deserves. And at 60, the Malaysian-born actress is breaking age, gender and racial stereotypes so fast your head would spin.
Everyone loves a good comeback story.
The love between Ke Huy Quan (Best Supporting Actor) and Branden Fraser (Best Actor) has been on display since the awards season started. And as someone who grew up watching Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984), the Goonies (1985) and the Mummy (1999), seeing these guys taking centrestage again brings a tear to my eye.
Presenting your 95th #Oscars acting winners:
• Brendan Fraser (Best Actor)
• Michelle Yeoh (Best Actress)
• Ke Huy Quan (Supporting Actor)
• Jamie Lee Curtis (Supporting Actress) pic.twitter.com/vsdTF33as9
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) March 14, 2023
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Oscars without someone trying to get some social media clout by being toxic. This time round, it was by trolling Jamie Lee Curtis’s Best Supporting Actress win with #oscarssowhite, accusing the 64-year-old of winning it simply because of the colour of her skin.
Fortunately, the Internet was quick to slap down the troll comments by simply pointing out what a well-deserved (and long overdue) Oscar it is for the Hollywood icon. Personally, while her role as a housewife turned spy in True Lies (1994) made me want to learn the tango, I’ve loved her since I first saw her in A Fish Called Wanda (1988).
Assistance dogs in the news
The big news on social media last week was Paralympian Sophie Soon and her experience at a Rocky Masters café in Hougang.
The 25-year-old swimmer, who has an eye condition and uses a guide dog, posted several clips criticising the café on TikTok for “refusing service”. She went viral, although perhaps not the same reasons she had in mind.
While she had her supporters, Sophie also received criticism over the tone she took with the F&B staff member at the café.
A few days after she posted the original clip of her interaction, Sophie took it down and posted an apology video on TikTok promising to “focus on more positive content”.
@sophsoon I owe everyone an applogy for my wrong doings . Like most have pointed out, both parties had a part to play in all of this, and this is my apology to all of you. Please take care, have a wonderful week ahead. 💜 #tiktoksg #guidedog #accessibility #apology ♬ original sound – Sophie 🏊🏼♀️🦮💙
I spoke with Cassandra Chiu, executive director of K9Assistance, which champions the use of assistance dogs in Singapore, and she said that it is good that Sophie took down her original post and put up an apology as some people may have been uncomfortable about how she handled the situation.
However, Cassandra, who is one of the first guide dog owners in Singapore and an advocate for guide dogs for more than 10 years, added that it wasn’t fair for any of us to comment on her situation because we weren’t there.
Instead, we should look at the broader perspective.
“First, it’s about the (behaviour of the) dog handlers themselves, of course,” she explained, “and second, it’s about how society and businesses respond to assistance dogs when they come in through the door.”
It’s a situation where both sides are frustrated. She has been down that path herself often, she said, but the bigger decision she always grapples with is whether it is worth fighting over it.
“Do we have time for that fight? We have to pick our battles.”
She continued: “For example, private hire drivers and taxi drivers are not allowed to deny assistance animals entry into their vehicles, yet the reality is that I face this challenge often. But if I wrote in to complain every single time I was denied service because of my assistance dog, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. In the meantime, I need to get on with my life!”
One thing is clear from this incident, she said. “The burden of education should not fall on the handler. I suggest clearer legislation on this. Look at tray returns at hawker centre. As Singaporeans, we’re good at following rules.”
For example, guide dogs are approved and allowed in halal-certified premises by Muis, which encouraged Muslims to “be kind those who need to use guide dogs to get around”.
The benefit? F&B staff will also not have to end up being caught in between.
Said Cassandra: “(Lack of awareness) deters handlers. Over the last few years, I’ve had friends comment that they can see how my guide dog helps me but they are also amazed at the trouble that I have to go through for them!”
Is eating out getting more expensive?
This week, an IPS survey said that despite the rising costs of operating food stalls in hawker centres, food courts and kopitiams, many stall owners did not increase prices.
The study, which was aimed to determine if the GST rise had affected prices, was met with some incredulity online, with netizens giving anecdotes of smaller portion sizes and much higher increases in prices.
To me, some of the observations made by the researchers were more telling than measuring the prices themselves.
For example, the team had compared results from two visits – at the end of 2022 and in early 2023 after the GST hike. They were not able to visit as many stalls in the second round because “many had later closed down or changed hands” the researchers said.
Hawkers they spoke to told them about the “hardships of having to manage the rising cost of operation and not increasing prices by too much in order to not drive customers away”.
How are we helping our hawkers survive the increase in price of ingredients?
This, to me, is more worrying than harping on silly miniscule price comparisons between Bishan and Toa Payoh or declaring that prata is cheaper in the west of Singapore.
Can the Government put in more measures to alleviate the operational costs of our hawkers?
We talk about wanting to make the Padang Singapore’s next UNESCO World Heritage Site, but let’s also take steps to keep our hawker culture alive.
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Microsoft Inclusive Design
And finally, one thing that may have gone unnoticed is that earlier this month, Microsoft released a new version of its Inclusive Design Toolkit.
The flagship program has been an important seminal tool for program managers, engineers, data scientists, designers, or anyone else who helps create products and services since it was released in 2015.
But while the previous toolkit focused on physical and sensory disabilities, the new iteration includes tools to help design systems to assist people with cognitive issues as well. Anyone can download the toolkit, and its underlying principles – to recognise exclusion, learn from diversity, solve for one then extend to many – is a way of thinking that encourages other-centredness in creating new working systems.
It may not look like much and might even seem a little dry and boring, but this kind of design thinking is another step towards building a more inclusive society!
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