ACCORDING TO the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey by the Ministry of Manpower,  Singapore has a total of 3,135,900 people in the labour force as of 2010. In the same year, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate remains relatively low at 2.2%.

But what does it mean to be employed?

Defined by the American Association of Occupational Therapists (1994), work is:

Purposeful activities for self-development, social contribution, and livelihood.

Occupational Therapists are part of the multi-disciplinary team in the realm of vocational rehabilitation. Together with vocational counsellors, psychologists and job coaches (terms vary in different vocational programmes), they are involved in facilitating the process of gaining, training and sustaining employment for persons with disabilities (PWDs).

For PWDs, there are various forms of employment available: Open Employment, Supported Employment and Sheltered Employment.  They differ in the level of support provided to the worker from external services once established in post (with Open Employment meaning independence/no support at all). Determining which type of employment is best-suited for whom involves individualized assessment and training. The outcomes depends on each person’s competency and level of independence.

Statistically, no data is available to indicate the employment rate amongst PWDs. However, studies have shown that PWDs generally face more difficulties gaining and/or sustaining open employment. It can be seen as a chicken and egg problem – workers face poor job matches due to the physical and social demands of the job, and may also lack specific skills set for the job. Then on the other hand, employers are unwilling to hire PWDs due to the resources and training they need to go through.

A trained Occupational Therapist would be able to ensure congruence between the person seeking employment and physical demands and social expectations inherent in the job. For different PWDs, what constitutes a good job match would differ. With people with Autism for instance, jobs need to follow clearly-defined routines, require minimal social skills and have adequate time for learning new tasks. Determining a good job match is done through vocational profiling and a jobsite evaluation.  An Occupational Therapist carries this out by means of observation, interviews or standardized work assessments such as the Valpar Component Work Sample. In such evaluations, PWDs are assessed for global employment skills:

  • Communication and social skills repertoire
  • Self-management and time-management skills
  • Problem solving or coping skills
  • Navigation skills

Following thorough assessments, the role of an Occupational Therapists as an advocate also involves:

  • Exploring vocational interests with persons seeking employment
  • Analysing job demands
  • Adapting the environment to allow maximal function
  • Applications of assistive technology
  • Skills training (Can also be done with Job Coach)
  • Arranging for natural supports at work

The following article, taken from The New Paper, highlights the story of a Japanese man who was able to seek open employment in a company steadfast in their belief to provide equal vocational opportunities to PWDs like himself.

Taken from The New Paper, 6th June 2012 (pg. 6)

At Japan Sun Industries, PWDs undergo training to ensure competency. What I particularly like is that these people are allowed to work at their own pace, with health and safety as priority. The article also shares pictures of Assistive Technology (AT) being incorporated into the workplace, such as the motorized chair lift. These are part of adaptations to the work environment to maximize the potential of PWDs and at the same time protecting their safety.

But of course, the mention of the Law for Employment Promotion for Disabled that exists in Japan. Under this framework, it is mandatory for companies to hire one PWD for every 56 non-disabled employees.

Such a framework simply does not exist in Singapore.

The Enabling Masters Plan under the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is the closest that we have locally. Under this banner, the Enabling Employers Network (EEN) is an initiative to champion the employments of PWDs. Click here for information.

The organization provides a platform for PWDs to seek jobs, and vice-versa for employers to post job openings. Of particular interest is the Open Door Fund (ODF). With the ODF, companies can claim financial assistance for projects that facilitate employment of PWDs – redesigning of jobscope, training programmes and integrated programmes.  To qualify for the fund, a minimum of 4 PWDs need to be hired for at least a 1-year contract.

Strong laws in Japan. Monetary incentives in Singapore. How viable are they?

I believe the infrastructure is in place to support employment for PWDs. However, from another perspective it seems like only the icing on the cake. Content-wise? Pretty empty. I think the culture of corporate social responsibility is still very much missing in today’s society. What more can be done to encourage large MNCs and SMEs alike to hire PWDs, as well as ensure a sustained long-term employment? That is, without the need for laws and incentives.

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About Nani Adilla Zailani

Essentially, living in the moment and loving all things beautiful.




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