SPS Eric Chua: Everyone plays a part in making disability-inclusion a reality
Because together, we can, we must, and we will achieve more.
How can we achieve our vision of a more inclusive society?
Persons with disabilities (PWDs) and caregivers gathered at Suntec Convention Centre on Saturday (Apr 1) to discuss how Singapore can better enable vulnerable individuals through inclusive hiring and independent living.
The engagement session, organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) as part of the Forward Singapore exercise, saw around 100 participants including Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua.
Here are some key takeaways from the session:
HR personnel should be better trained to manage PWDs
Participants shared that Human Resource (HR) personnel are the “key pillars” to inclusive hiring practices. As such, there’s a need for them to undergo proper training to be better equipped to manage job applicants and employees who are PWDs.
Some participants, who are part of the hiring committee, shared that some challenges faced when adopting inclusive hiring was that it “feels like tokenism” and that they’re not hiring PWDs based on merit. Others also put forward the issue of time constraints and manpower shortage to onboard PWDs, resulting in them not considering hiring such applicants at all. Ultimately, and unfortunately, PWDs are made to bear the brunt.
At the same time when efforts are made to hire PWDs, it does not always turn out well either.
While many PWDs don’t doubt the sincerity of hirers, they shared the sentiment that “kindness is not enough”. Presently, hirers lack knowledge of the different disabilities in the community. This results in many HR departments using the same approach when dealing with PWDs across the board.
However, what works for one PWD might not for another.
“Some ‘accommodations’ that have been made for one particular disability group could in fact turn out to be a barrier for another disability group,” shared Mr Chua.
Employers need to adopt a collaborative approach when working with PWDs
One participant opined that mandating for a certain percentage of a company’s employees to be PWDs is not a “right answer”. Society also can’t expect PWDs to constantly rely on agencies like SG Enable to assist individuals with employment through job matching, as not every PWD is aware such resources are available.
Moreover, the jobs available, or rather seen as “suitable” for PWDs, are often blue collar jobs. For those with higher cognitive abilities, their potential is then never maximised. Thus, redesigning the jobs available for PWDs should be necessitated.
PWDs said that they don’t expect the workload to be completely customised to their needs as it’s “not an equitable exchange for employers and employees”. They also understand that they can’t be paid the same amount for doing half the work of a usual employee. But, they are willing to take the courage to learn the skills needed to be a “valid employee”.
Participant Mr Josh Tseng, who is visually impaired, shared about his internship experience with Grand Hyatt when he was a polytechnic student.
Working in a marketing communications role then, there was an instance when he struggled to use some of the software needed. He consulted his boss, sharing about the problem he was facing before offering possible solutions.
Josh recounts the experience as “very anxiety-inducing” as back then he was very scared to ask for help. Nonetheless, he knew he had to communicate his needs to get the job done so that “it’s fair to (himself) and (his) employers”.
Thankfully, his colleagues and bosses were understanding and open to collaboration. None interacted with him patronisingly.
It’s our responsibility to protect the vulnerable
On the topic of independent living, a participant who is caring for her son shared that while he is unable to do many things on his own, she envisions her son leading a happy life with the support of society.
Another caregiver suggested tapping into existing resources to uplift the lives of PWDs.
Currently, there are PWDs who live in facilities like adult disability homes. If there could be some community services organised such as client support groups, along with coworking spaces so individuals can continue to work, that would enable them to live in comfort and with dignity.
The Government and social service agencies are also stepping up to enhance the lives of PWDs.
In his opening remarks, Mr Chua announced that local charity SPD, with support from SG Enable, will operate the first Enabling Services Hub (ESH) in Tampines West Community Centre by mid-2023.
The ESH will offer social inclusion activities and continual education and learning courses for PWDs, as well as drop-in respite care to support caregivers. It will also have an outreach team to reach out to PWDs in the area and match them with community befrienders and resources.
Later this year, SG Enable will also launch the first Enabling Business Hub (EBH) in Jurong West.
The agency will collaborate with industry associations to showcase inclusive hiring practices and encourage more employers to adopt them. PWDs will have work opportunities and job support near where they live. This will contribute to Singapore’s collective aspiration to reach the target of a 40 per cent employment rate among PWDs, up from 31 per cent today, said Mr Chua.
To enable persons with disabilities to live more independently, 24/7 on-demand audible traffic signals will also be implemented at pedestrian crossings across 10 town centres. It was first announced in August 2022 at the launch of the Enabling Masterplan 2030 (EMP2030).
Preparation works have commenced in Bedok and Tampines and will be completed by this June. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will roll out the implementation in the remaining towns in phases.
“These upgrades will help our residents with disabilities travel for work or leisure more independently,” said Mr Chua.