More employers in Singapore are hiring workers with physical or intellectual disabilities. This encouraging trend is being facilitated by a government fund set up to promote the hiring of older or disabled persons. Under this scheme, employers can benefit from a subsidy of up to 16 percent of their employee’s salary.
While there is a strong business case for hiring persons with disabilities (PWDs), there are also many misconceptions around their employment. For example, some employers think that the costs of adapting a work space or work processes for a PWD would be prohibitively expensive. According to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), PWDs are also perceived as being less productive than able-bodied workers.
Emilio Choo, a human resource business analyst at the National University of Singapore (NUS), feels that his disability may have been an obstacle to finding his first job.
“After my graduation, I sent out a couple of CVs. I could not really get a job. I’m not sure if it was because of my results or my disability, since my results were not fantastic. But I think my disability contributed somehow, because of building accessibility – employers probably don’t really know what to expect.”
As a paraplegic after a spinal cord injury 14 years ago, he faces difficulties in accessing some buildings at his current workplace. While buildings in Singapore constructed after 1990 have to follow the Code on BarrierFree Accessibility in Buildings, his university campus is made up of many older buildings that are not as accessible as the newer ones. Fortunately, Emilio knows he can count on his colleagues. “When we arrange meetings […] my colleagues from other departments have been very accommodating to me.”
Just like how budget airlines have hidden costs for PWDs, transportation often represents an indirect challenge to employment.
“Commuting to work is another thing. I drive now, but if I had to take public transport, I would have to take a bus, MRT and then bus again. NUS is not exactly the most wheelchair friendly place in town. I have to drive out for lunch also, because even though I’m near [a canteen], getting there is really challenging.”
For many, getting that first interview can be the toughest step. Partly because of the less-than-positive perceptions of PWDs, as well as structural obstacles like accessible transportation and buildings, Emilio feels that he “got lucky twice” to have been given two chances to interview for jobs. As the job search process can be grueling, he believes that it’s important to always have hope.
“Be confident in yourself. At the end of the day, if you’re good at something, you’re good at it. There’s someone out there that will appreciate your talent, so just keep trying.”
“We have to show the rest of the world that we can contribute just as much.”
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