More firms keen to hire those with disabilities

Despite suffering from a haemorrhagic stroke in 2014 which caused him to lose control of his left hand, 22-year-old Lee Yong Jie was hired as a systems developer in a software company just a year later.

He was among 200 people who found work through the SPD's employment support programme in the 2015 financial year, a rise of over 50 per cent from the year before.

SPD, formally known as Society for the Physically Disabled, helps people with disabilities find employment. Other voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) catering to the disabled are also seeing higher employment rates, saying more companies are keen to hire their clients.

The Autism Resource Centre (ARC) had nine firms hiring its clients last year, up from four in 2012.

Mr Abhimanyau Pal, the SPD's executive director, said the schemes introduced to encourage inclusive hiring practices have helped.

"Initiatives such as the Special Employment Credit (SEC) make it more attractive for companies to hire people with disabilities," he said.

Under the SEC, the Government pays up to 16 per cent of the salary of older workers and those with physical or intellectual disabilities earning up to $4,000 a month.

The ARC's deputy director, Ms Jacelyn Lim, said that training and job support are more readily available now, citing the ARC's Employability and Employment Centre as one such service that prepares people with autism for the workforce.

"We look for jobs that capitalise on their strengths and equip them with the necessary skills," she said.

"For example, data entry jobs which require attention to detail are more suitable (for people with autism) than front desk jobs that involve lots of communication with customers and unexpected situations."

While more firms are aware of the work capabilities of the disabled, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore chief executive Keh Eng Song believes more can be done to help them integrate into the workplace.

"Many a time, the upper management of a company, sincere as they may be in wanting to integrate people with intellectual disabilities in their workforce, fail to garner support from their co-workers and supervisors in mentoring and being patient with them.

"Clients should be open to jobs in the food and beverage sector and travel out of their residence to work, as Singapore is very accessible."

Many companies have moved towards a more inclusive workforce by adopting age-friendly hiring practices as well.

Fast food chain McDonald's has more than 3,000 staff aged over 50. A spokesman said the company "uses visuals in instructional guides, and cash registers are designed with pictures of menu items for easy order-taking".

At 92, she's McDonald's oldest employee

The wrinkles on her face may indicate her age, but her eyes give nothing away. Bright and full of life, it is hard to believe that Madam Goh Gwek Eng is McDonald's oldest employee.

The 92-year-old, who lived through the Japanese Occupation, has been working at the fast food chain for the past 18 years.

With five children, 10 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, Madam Goh was kept busy as a housewife for a large part of her life.

"Now that most of them are working or have their own families, the house is very quiet," said Madam Goh.

When the boredom became too much, she sought help from a granddaughter who found her a job at a McDonald's outlet at Bedok Interchange in 1998. The restaurant is 20 minutes' walk from her home.

At McDonald's, Madam Goh's years of experience in the kitchen came in handy.

She picked up the skills with no difficulty, and became adept at preparing anything on the menu.

On the challenges she faces at work, she said "frying fries is the most difficult, as I get very hot from standing in front of the fryer".

Fortunately, help is available.

She said: "My colleagues help me when they see me carrying heavy things or when I can't keep up with orders." Though her job may be repetitive and physically draining, Madam Goh enjoys what she does as it keeps her active.

"I plan to keep working for as long as I am healthy," she said.

Meticulous and cheerful despite his disabilities

Photo: The Straits Times

Often seen unloading goods onto the shelves with a cheery demeanour, 51-year-old Mr Sin Yew Hock is a familiar face at Cold Storage's Heartland Mall branch.

An employee there for the past 18 years, he often mentors part-time workers and advises them on how to improve the displays.

All this is done in his capacity as a section leader, despite being hearing and speech impaired since birth.

Although he has up to Primary 5 education, he has proved to be a fast learner. "He can assemble the store fixtures from scratch just by looking at diagrams," said deputy store manager Jurry Muana. "When we upgrade our equipment, he catches on very quickly."

Known affectionately as "Ah Aik", which embodies the sound of his laughter, Mr Sin communicates with hand gestures or by writing in his notebook. When he is unable to communicate with customers, he directs them to his colleagues.

Ms Donna Ang, 61, a fellow section leader and colleague of 15 years, said: "He is very meticulous. When there are empty shelves, he replenishes the items almost immediately."

Sales assistant Peh Yew, 62, added in Mandarin: "We love to be around him as he always cracks us up with his facial expressions."

Outside work, Mr Sin enjoys visiting his friends and sightseeing around Singapore. He lives with his sister and aunt. He is one of 30 people with special needs or disabilities working at Cold Storage.

The company recently topped a supermarket consumer satisfaction survey conducted by Singapore Management university.

Asked how he feels about working at Cold Storage, Mr Sin beamed widely and gave a big thumbs up.

This article was first published on May 1, 2016.
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