Friday, 8 July 2016

Opening career paths for the disabled: SG Enable

SG Enable's internship placement programme has helped 68 tertiary students since 2013
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2016

Just like his peers, undergraduate Alister Ong has been doing summer internships every year, though he needs help with lift buttons and the office entry system because they are literally out of his reach. The 22-year-old economics student at Singapore Management University (SMU) has cerebral palsy and uses a motorised wheelchair.

"When people go into the lift with me, I'll ask them to help me press the button," said Mr Ong, who works in a 21st-floor office at the Ministry of National Development (MND).

"The security guard helps me as well. I can also call my colleagues for help. It's no issue, there are ways to work around it."

This is his third internship after stints at Deutsche Bank, where he was placed by disability support agency SG Enable, and consulting firm Accenture.

The work experience he has gained has given him confidence and a better inkling of what to expect from working life when he graduates next year.

This is what SG Enable set out to do when it launched this internship placement programme for tertiary students with disabilities in December 2013.

The agency matches each student with a company based on his or her preference, supports the student and employer during interview processes, and helps the employer with integration needs, such as physical modifications to the workplace.

Deutsche Bank, for example, has been working with SG Enable for three years and has made modifications such as changing the heavy doors to automated ones for easy wheelchair-user access.

Since 2013, SG Enable has placed 68 tertiary students with disabilities in internships. As of this month, 24 have been placed with 16 employers - six times the number of interns placed when the programme first started.

Deutsche Bank's current intern, Mr Chen Jiajun, who recently graduated from Nanyang Technological University, suffers from poor vision, which he compensated for in his school years by using microbinoculars and having his exam scripts printed on A3 paper. This is his first internship.

"This programme has really helped open doors for me to consider a career in banking and finance. The people here are very friendly and approachable," he said.

While the tertiary students have picked up skills and gained confidence, their colleagues and supervisors also had something to learn.

Mr Tang Liheng, deputy director at MND's eco-city project office where Mr Ong is interning, has started noticing the little things that can get in the way of a person with physical disabilities.

"We tried to go for lunch in Tanjong Pagar Road. After a while, we realised we couldn't make it because of the steps along the five- foot-way," said Mr Tang.

"These are things that I wouldn't have known if I hadn't met him. It's only when you start talking to him and hearing his stories that you know how he has to adjust his lifestyle...

"I think there are certain gaps to be filled for people with mobility problems like him."

Making workplaces inclusive for persons with disabilities
By Lee Li Ying, Channel NewsAsia, 6 Jul 2016

More persons with disabilities (PWDs) are joining the workforce in what is seen as an inclusive working environment.

Government agency SG Enable - set up in 2014 to boost the employability of those with special needs - said the numbers have increased from 350 in FY2014, to 500 in FY2015. The agency also supported about 650 employers to hire these individuals over the past two years.

Mr Ong Peng Kai, who has cerebral palsy, works as a researcher with the National Council of Social Service (NCSS). To ensure the 24-year-old's safety in any emergency, the organisation has an evacuation chair, which can be converted to a wheelchair or stretcher.

More than 50 staff have also been trained to operate the device, which costs about S$2,000. According to the Council, it is a worthy investment.

“We think that the value the PWDs brings to the organisation far more outweigh another potential cost made for the accommodation,” said Ms Low Wan Ve, Director of Human Resource and Planning and Organisation Development at NCSS.

“The purchase of the evacuation chair that we made, can be used for cases where staff are basically immobile for a period of time such as accidents. It's part and parcel of working in an organisation and not specific costs associated with employing PWDs," she added.

However, some modifications cost nothing at all, like removing a cubicle panel to widen the entrance to Mr Ong’s workspace and re-programming his access card, so doors stay open longer.

SG Enable added that inexpensive, yet highly effective accommodations are possible. Others, however, feel the need to do more.

Local telco Singtel has invested nearly S$200,000 to make the workplace disability-friendly. "We do see that PWDs are alternative talent source for us to tap into, as we start to bring many of them into our organisation,” said Singtel’s Chief HR Officer Aileen Tan.

“It’s important for us to make sure that our workplace is friendly to them. That's the reason why we've invested to ensure they can be quite independent while working in the organisation."

Doors that swing open at the wave of a hand and wheelchair-friendly ramps have also made life easier for employees like Mr Ivan Lin. The 29-year-old, who works as a web chat agent, has spastic diplegia. It affects the mobility in his legs, but he said the workplace layout allows him to move around easily.

“I look forward to coming to work every day because of the facilities here. So, that reduces a lot of my stress,” he said.

SG Enable said it has been receiving more enquires from employers about hiring the disabled, although not all are ready to employ them yet.

Said Director of Employment and Employability at SG Enable, Mr Ng Herk Low: "They're asking us questions like how do we accommodate them in terms of HR policy, or how am I looking at being more inclusive in my interview process. So, we are trying to support them with different consultancy and advice."

SG Enable also administers the Open Door Programme, which supports employers in the hiring, training and integration of PwDs. Employers can also tap on the Job Redesign Grant which covers 90 per cent of the cost of workplace modifications, capped at S$3,000.

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