For persons with disabilities, employment is valued for many reasons—social inclusion, physical, mental and psychological well-being, personal development and application of learned skills, and financial wellbeing are but some of the reasons. Research has shown that persons with disabilities who are employed lead more fulfilling and enriching lives.
In the previous issue of AWWA Connect, we focused on persons with disabilities being an equal in society and celebrating abilities at large. In this issue, we would like to zoom in on employment and infrastructure within workplace for persons with disabilities.
Though the employment landscape in Singapore for persons with disabilities is slowly changing, many still face barriers. Amanda Mok, an employee of AWWA, who is wheelchair-bound has Spina Bifida, a neural tube defect which affects her ability to walk, said “Employers always think of our limitations first and when they consider factors like accessibility and adequate working space, this reduces our chances of finding employment.”
Nur Syahidah Alim, ex-client and ex-staff of AWWA, and also the first para-archer from Singapore at the Paralympics, who was born with Cerebral Palsy and walks with an atypical gait, said “Organisations should select based on qualifications, capability and fit for the job, rather than their physical disabilities.”
Accessibility is another factor that affects persons with disabilities; it’s not only about getting to work but also about the facilities and environment within the workplace. To encourage integration of persons with disabilities in society and the workplace at large, companies and building owners need to consider facilitating and allowing for such needs. At AWWA, there are wheelchair-friendly toilets where handrails have been installed, an emergency button in the event one needs help and ramps at all areas to allow for wheelchair access. Asked on her experience of being an employee of AWWA, Amanda said “AWWA doesn’t treat me as a person with disabilities, they treat me as an equal”.
To encourage organisations to employ persons with disabilities, there are schemes in place to do this: the Open Door Programme (ODP), by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), aims to encourage employers to hire, train and integrate persons with disabilities. Under this initiative, grants are available for items such as purchases of equipment and workplace modification, on-the-job training grant to support employment and retention of persons with disabilities. ODP is administered by SG Enable.
Another government scheme would be the Special Employment Credit (SEC): this is extended to employers that hire persons with disabilities of all ages and is set at 16% of the employee’s monthly income, up to $240 per month. There are more schemes which can be found on the SG Enable website.
As with everything, it’s always two-way. Syahidah mentioned “persons with disabilities must dare to be ambitious. As people with disabilities, we have to prove to society and organisations that we are as equally capable as the able-bodied employee. Continue to work on your strengths and overcome challenges. A way to build up communication skills and self-confidence is to join Toastmasters.”
It is important that we, as a community, work towards achieving an inclusive workforce where persons with disabilities can be empowered to lead independent and dignified lives. Each of us can help support this by raising awareness of disabilities and also of the government schemes that support organisations with hiring persons with disabilities. Let our efforts palpitate right to the heart of society and cause this necessary shift in mindset.
 Extracted from the 3rd Enabling Masterplan (2017-2021) – Caring Nation, Inclusive Society