18 September 2015

Getting people with disabilities off the training treadmill and into real jobs

People with disabilities should not be trained for the sake of training, with no jobs in sight, but placed where they can learn on-the-job. In a speech titled Best Practices of Employers in Supported Employment for Persons with Disabilities, Christy Lynch, Chief Executive Officer, KARE Ireland, an organisation which provides support to people who have an intellectual disability and their families, advocated working with people with disabilities and employers to ensure that there is real empowerment.

Speaking at Towards an Inclusive Workforce 2015, an event jointly organised by SPD, and supported by SG Enable and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), Lynch noted that the reality of people with disabilities is that they are disconnected from the labour market and typically do not get the opportunity to go to work. Regular supported employment is attainable, he said.

"The problem is – not was – that lots of people do lots of training and never get to the labour market," he noted, pointing out that many people with disabilities are still stuck in less desirable options of sheltered workshops - a daily programme - and vocational training centres.

While many believe that the severely disabled cannot work, Lynch gave real-life examples of people who have done just that with regular supported employment, with job responsibilities matched to their abilities. "Employers don't hear the success stories," he said.

Supported employment enables individuals with disabilities to be employed in real jobs in regular settings where training and other supports are provided on an ongoing basis, Lynch explained. Kare negotiates with employers on what a disabled person may need to learn to fulfil the requirements of the job, and assigns a job coach to work with the person to ensure that he or she can do the job to the standard that the employer requires.

There may be physical adaptations required for the workplace, and the disabled person may need to learn social skills appropriate for the corporate culture, Lynch noted. Many people may fit the job requirements, but need help on the logistics, such as how to get to the workplace, he added.

Misconceptions with the practice are that employers may think disabled people are a source of cheap labour, or that they create a token job that would not have existed otherwise, Lynch cautioned. "It's about real wages and benefits," he said.

Another misconception is that the support for supported employment stops once the disabled person has been successfully placed in the job. Problems can crop up years later, requiring the support organisation to step in again, Lynch said.

"No two people are the same so no support package is the same," he said. "You have to tailor this to the individual."

The fifth Towards an Inclusive Workforce 2015 was held in conjunction with the 2015 Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship Award Ceremony, which offers financial support to students with disabilities studying in IT-related disciplines. Over 100 participants comprising employers and representatives from institutes of higher learning attended the event at the NTUC Business Centre.

“People with disabilities have work potential. When given the opportunity, job accommodation and support, they too can contribute to the economic growth of Singapore. We are encouraged by the help of Microsoft Singapore in supporting the IT-related aspirations of students with disabilities, and our partners SG Enable and WDA in advancing the employment of people with disabilities, and hope that inclusive hiring will become second nature, and not initiated as a corporate social responsibility exercise,” said Abhimanyau Pal, Executive Director, SPD.


Read the TechTrade Asia blog post about the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarships for 2015