There are various disabilities: some visible, some not visible, some affect one’s physical form, while some affect one’s mental functions. Regardless of the disability, he or she is impaired from carrying out normal activities in daily life.
Disabilities can occur at any time, and they can be temporary or permanent. A person can also have more than one disability.
To explore the challenges that Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) are facing in Singapore, there is a need to identify the issues they face.
Why employers do not hire PWDs
Often, PWDs may lack the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) needed for the available jobs. PWDs may be less productive than abled people, which could entail higher labour costs such as insurance. Employers may show concern, fearing that coworkers will react negatively to working with PWDs. As a result, these negative views may pose interrelated problems that permeate the entire employment cycle.
Do PWDs hold a place in our present economy?
A dipstick public survey found that more than half of the respondents felt their companies’ efforts were insufficient in supporting the disabled. Lacking facilities for PWDs was one of the main reasons.
The following were cited in the survey:
Some critics are biased against PWDs, thinking they are an ungrateful lot and should not ask for special treatment.
PWDs do not have their voices heard, nor have any say on matters which directly affect them.
PWDs are reluctant to go directly to the board members to provide feedback or raise concerns.
PWDs are often looked upon as objects of pity and sometimes used to front fund-raising exercises.
Efforts to Integrate PWDs
In 2017, the government launched its third Enabling Masterplan, a 5-year National Plan to integrate PWDs in the workplace and help their caregivers.
In addition, the government introduced initiatives to support PWDs and mental issues. Under the additional employment support, the training programmes from Special Education Schools will also be made available to those with mental retardation and moderate intellectual and multiple disabilities.
A Disability Caregiver Support Centre was also set up to provide information, training, plan respite, and peer support groups.
Impact of COVID-19 on PWD Employment Prospects
During the challenging period of COVID-19, SG Enable and its job support partners have been reaching out to the PWDs who have since stopped working, encouraging them to sign up for employment support services.
SG Enable’s Virtual Career Fair was held from April to May 2020. It offered over 100 job opportunities. In addition, their online Training and Career Fair in September 2020 advertised 150 jobs. These training lessons are conducted virtually to ensure that the health of clients and trainers are not compromised.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, many PWDs are temporarily exiting the workforce due to health concerns.
Hiring Candidates with Disabilities
To increase workplace accessibility, we need to consider the new hire’s disability; hearing, vision, mobility, or cognitive impairment require the necessary tools, devices, and workplace conditions.
There are three common areas where employers should look into, to modify changes for employees with disabilities.
1. Adjustment of Computers
It is recommended that the organisation purchases software and tools to assist PWDs with their computer usage.
For example, adding a screen reader or a Braille keyboard would be helpful for someone who is visually impaired. For someone who is hearing-impaired, it is also possible to change the computer’s control settings by replacing sounds with text or visuals. By increasing its size or changing its colour, we can make the mouse pointer stand out. This way, it will help new employees to complete their projects more efficiently and effectively.
2. Selection of Furniture
It is necessary to modify the workspace to suit PWDs’ needs and comfort. For example:
adjusting the height of their chairs can have a significant impact on their productivity;
as a person in a wheelchair may not use an office chair, they may require the ability to adjust the computer monitor and desk to an appropriate height;
a person with an assistive cane or visual impairment will need a sturdy chair (with no wheels) for them to sit in comfort without moving the chair;
it is crucial to choose the right furniture, as this can help new employees to perform their tasks to the best of their abilities.
3. Inclusivity in Work Areas
To make the work area accessible and convenient for everyone, it is always recommended to check if all locations are accessible and practical, including the pantry or toilet. Such a change is imperative to accommodate employees with disabilities.
Lack of Facilities for PWDs
It is necessary to provide reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee who develops a disability, unless an employer deems an undue hardship with significant difficulty or expense.
In a comment on a Facebook post on 10 July 2019, Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Desmond Lee highlighted two key changes that would meet the vulnerable communities’ needs.
First, new facilities would be set up to provide more accessibility and convenient living environments for the elderly and adults with disabilities.
Secondly, the government will make way for buildings to provide larger accessible toilets on every floor, to make it easier for mobility users to manoeuvre their wheelchairs. These changes will also be applied to healthcare facilities, key transport nodes and larger shopping malls.
As a full-time caregiver, Ei Phyu Zin voiced her concerns, expressing that taking care of a wheelchair-bound patient can be tedious and exhausting. She felt that the additional changes made to the buildings could help to ease burdens in dealing with practical, day-to-day challenges. She cites an example that toilet cubicles for the handicapped are not spacious enough to accommodate a bulky wheelchair. Frustrated, she believes bigger toilets will be much more helpful for both the caregivers and the handicapped.
Protecting the Rights of PWDs in the Workplace
It is not easy to rebuild the lives of the disabled. They need to be positively guided, to regain the confidence and independence lost due to unfortunate circumstances.
The existence of disabilities may also cause emotional instability for individuals and families responsible for their care. It may also result in poor health and quality-of-life, in which their socioeconomic standing is greatly affected by their caring for the disabled.
Protecting the rights of the disabled in workplaces where there is discrimination, unfair hiring practices, and poor conditions will create a positive trickle-down effect on employees’ happiness and well-being, along with that of their caregivers. Let us all play our part to make this change today.
Special thanks to Wendy Ng from Make The Change for this article.