Singapore. A vibrant and culturally diverse country that we were fortunate enough to experience as part of an ANU study tour. The tour, an initiative of the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan funds Australian university students to undertake educational experiences in Asia.
The ‘Enabled Futures’ program is a study tour organised by Enable Development with a focus on disability and aging. As part of the tour we explored the world of assistive technology in context; we met with academics and local community groups undertook workshops, and visited sites.
As part of the program we were encouraged to see the built environment through the eyes of people with disability; we attempted to navigate Singapore in a wheelchair, wore vision-limiting goggles and used crutches to name a just few. The program aims to highlight accessibility and inclusivity aspects of an environment, providing a greater sense of awareness of these challenges.
Travelling around Singapore this way helped us to empathise and better understand another’s circumstances. As engineering students, the empathy activities provided us with a humanitarian perspective on accessible design that we have taken back to our university studies and will certainly use well into our professional future.
Collaborating with local community groups was a highlight of the trip, we visited the Chaoyang special education school, and participated in shared fun activities at the Singapore School for the Deaf. We also visited a rehabilitation hospital to learn about recovery methods for mental and physical disabilities. Lastly we toured the SGSports centre to meet Paralympian athletes and lunch with migrant workers to understand harsh working and employment conditions.
Interacting with the children through activities ranging from badminton to cooking, alongside the rehabilitation centre staff, exposed us to the constraints and concerns people living with disabilities face on a day to day basis.
We meet Paralympians, and had the opportunity to interview the athletes on their training regime, discovering how their disabilities affects their sporting ability, and how others perceive them when they compete. We were able to observe first-hand, current assistive technologies alongside a tour of the village highlighting various design processes and considerations when we took a site visit to Enabling Village – a community space designed to maximise use and freedom of movement for all visitors. It was eye-opening to see how technology and design can be used to empower users.
We were introduced into the Singaporean innovation culture with guest speakers from social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations. The focus on design thinking, user-centred design and critical thinking from the workshops and projects allowed us to brainstorm ideas and potential solutions for a range of problems facing the aging population and people living with disabilities and present a reflection on our learnings. Our chosen topic was on the disadvantages people living with disabilities face for higher education.
As systems engineering students at ANU these workshops allowed us to explore how different components of a complex system interact with each other and understand system sustainability.
ANU offers and supports many student opportunities. Receiving a scholarship afforded us the chance to explore the disability and aging context in another country, which has been one of the best experiences that we have had at university so far.
It was an unforgettable opportunity, so If you are considering applying, there are future opportunities to partake in the Enabled Futures Program in Summer or Winter advertised on the Enable Development website
An article written by Stephanie Nguyen and Arbaz Khan, 4th year Engineering/Commerce