SINGAPORE, May 28 — Unsure if he could handle his intellectually disabled sister when she starts shouting or approaching strangers, Alan Koo, 54, never considered bringing her overseas.
This changed after the senior supervisor at a manufacturing firm returned from a three-day trip to Phuket organised by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) for its clients and travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), where he learnt how to better manage his sister’s behaviour when she gets excited.
If she was creating a ruckus, for instance, he would gently warn her that she needs to calm down or he would not bring her on another trip. “My sister did not react so aggressively … Now I feel that I’m more confident. The next time I bring them out, it’ll be easier to (manage) her,” said Koo.
For the trip, MINDS selected five families with intellectually disabled children. These families are also financially challenged and have never flown overseas before. They were accompanied by two MINDS employees and three volunteers from CWT.
MINDS chief executive Keh Eng Song said planning a vacation for families that have children with special needs requires more than just money.
“Even if finances permit, caregivers can be reluctant to travel for fear of not being able to handle their child in a foreign land,” he said. “Having extra support from MINDS and CWT to look after and engage their children allowed caregivers to enjoy some rest and have fun with their kids without worry.”
Besides providing respite for the caregivers, Keh said he hoped the trip would help caregivers “build their confidence that they can actually bring their special needs child overseas”.
The trip took CWT about a year to prepare, including securing sponsors, checking for suitable destinations and accommodation and planning special activities for the clients.
The company’s meetings and events team planned an itinerary around places that were not crowded. The itinerary also included activities such as batik painting because the MINDS beneficiaries enjoyed arts and craft, said CWT director of human resources (South-east Asia and Hong Kong) Alice Loh.
While the beneficiaries were engaged in the activities, caregivers also had the chance to enjoy a one-hour massage that provided some respite.
Other travel agencies here said they had received requests to plan overseas trips for people with special needs or disabled persons over the years. Dynasty Travel said airlines and cruises have been “proactive in addressing issues to accommodate passengers with disabilities”.
Alicia Seah, Dynasty’s director of marketing communications, said the agency receives about one to two such requests each year, such as a trip for a group of 30 hearing-impaired children and their teachers.
She added that such trips are usually not more than four days and are to nearby destinations such as Malaysia. The agency will also try to arrange for accommodation in the city centre for easier access to sightseeing spots, for instance.
Chan Brothers said it has had groups of hearing-impaired travellers on their tours. Aside from arranging for a chaperone who knows sign language, the company said it also ensured the tour was held at a pace that gave enough time to translate explanations into sign language.
While SA Tours have yet to receive such requests, its general manager Eva Wu said they would look for destinations that do not involve as much travel time, as it can be stressful being confined to a plane or bus for extended periods. — TODAY