A Faculty Spotlight interview with Dr. Felicity Crawford, an associate professor of Special Education in the Teacher of Students with Moderate Disabilities Program at Wheelock College in Boston. She brings the perspective of an experienced pre K-12 educator who has worked for many years, and at every grade level, in racially and culturally diverse classroom settings.
You’ve taught in Singapore for how many years now?
While I began teaching in Singapore in 2007, I did not come in 2008 or 2015. So, I have come a total of 8 times in 10 years.
Various special needs impact children’s learning and development in many ways. Is there a growing awareness around that, at least with the students you teach?
One of the courses I teach is focused on having students examine the impact of disability on children’s learning and development. Consequently, by the end of the course, students are not only aware of the prevalence, causes, and characteristics of a number of disabilities, they are cognizant of the social, attitudinal, and subsequent economic barriers that persist throughout these students’ lives. They also become knowledgeable about the types of interventions that work for young children.
Within the society, the pace at which awareness is growing is much slower than one would hope, particularly given that the government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
What kind of strides in regard to that have been made in Singapore?
Since 2007, there have been a number of changes, including increased accessibility to barrier-free public facilities that were built or refurbished on the basis of Universal Design, an architectural principle which was intended to improve the ease at which anyone, including people with disabilities, can gain physical access to public facilities (e.g. the MRT station at Ang Mo Kio). Although it was the rapidly aging population that was the catalyst for the current attention to Universal Design in Singapore, the changes, nonetheless, work for everyone.
Other changes include the building of the Enabling Village, a universally designed inclusive space for people with and without disabilities. One of the goals is to enhance employability of people with disabilities. As such, this facility focuses, among other things, on job training, employment opportunities, and developing assistive technology.
Private entities, like the Lien Foundation, have initiated or supported a number of projects, including research to identify perceptions of disability. Another important accomplishment was private funding of the first inclusive preschool in Singapore: the Kindle Garden.
What kind of programs or facilities in Singapore show positive signs of progress?
Both the Kindle Garden and the Enabling Village are institutions of promise, for they can serve to sensitize able-bodied Singaporeans to the need for innovation and inclusion. Other programs, like Dialogue in the Dark (at Ngee Ann Polytechnic), are already sensitizing Singaporean students to challenges that people with disabilities face. The hope is that such programs would not only mitigate some of the barriers that exist.
Do you feel Wheelock students have contributed to societal change here?
Wheelock students are indeed contributing to the changes that are occurring in educational institutions. Many are in leadership positions at private and public early education institutions where they work as principals, vice principals, and curriculum specialists, among them, an award-winning mentor teacher who now works at one of the MOE kindergartens.