Ron Chandran-Dudley: A Pioneer Of Advocacy

Ron Chandran-Dudley was a tireless advocate for the rights of people with disabilities — and civil society and social work at large.

Two days before 2016 was ushered in, a pioneer died.

Advocating for people with disabilities for decades, Ron Chandran-Dudley was a hero for the community. Operating as he did in the 70s and 80s — times which were politically sensitive — his contributions had reverberations on social work and civil society as a whole.

As veteran activist and current President of the Singapore Advocacy Awards Constance Singam says, “Ron was one of the earliest to raise the issue of rights for people with special needs. He was articulate, charismatic and public about his views, perhaps far ahead of his time.

“Anybody who raises issues of human rights, even today, has a difficult time. Ron was operating in a political and social culture which was hostile to civil society activism. He was a pioneer and the community of people with special needs and civil society should honour him for his advocacy work.”

That charisma and articulacy of his seem to have been a watermark on his advocacy work. Pioneering social worker Ann Wee says “the very image of self that he projected” was key in bringing disability issues into the mainstream.

Explaining that image, she says, “There had been a tendency to see those with total sight loss as helpless, rather depressed and totally dependent on others. Our friend Ron was outgoing, cheerful and ready to live life to the full, and as a member of mainstream society.

“This was a breath of fresh air to the public perception of disability.”

Chandran-Dudley had always advocated for people with disabilities to be empowered to take charge of their own lives, says Braema Mathi, President of human rights group MARUAH. He was one of the first people to articulate issues of the disability community from a rights-based perspective, she adds.

Helping the community, shouldn’t be based on “favours,” she says. “It’s a rights-based issue.” Chandran-Dudley, she adds, has been keen on women’s issues and children’s issues.

“His main thrust is disabilities but he is also very much for social justice.”

For Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), this was what set Chandran-Dudley apart from other social workers.

“I think a lot of social workers don’t quite understand what it means to look at issues from a rights-based perspective. They still look (only) at issues as welfare and charity. A rights-discourse is not mainstreamed in social work practice.

“Ron was different in that respect. He understood what a rights-based perspective meant.”

Braema notes another trait that differentiated Chandran-Dudley from the rest. “The good thing about Ron is he comes from a rights-based place, but he is also very good at structure and formation.”

Attesting to this, in an email response, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin says, “His contribution to the visually impaired community had been momentous — he was instrumental in the development of an Open Education system that allowed and empowered students with visual disabilities to study in mainstream schools.”

Such a system aims at eliminating barriers in producing high-quality education to students at large.

For all his contributions, Braema “feels strongly” that Chandran-Dudley should have been given greater recognition by the State.

“I know the State gave him the National Day Award in 2001, but I don’t see why they could not have selected him to be a Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP).

“I think his contributions would have been very interesting and maybe fulfilling to us as a society.”

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