• In recent years, the Singapore government has been ramping up its efforts to encourage employers to empower people with disabilities.
  • A healthier, more positive way to look at "disabilities" is that some individuals simply have different needs.
  • Practicing transparency about the commitment with their employees, as well as externally, will ensure clarity in measuring progress toward hiring talent with disabilities.

Skilled and loyal employees are the backbone of any business. Research has shown that when businesses are focused on enabling a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) culture that can result in greater profitability and productivity, the core focus has mostly been on gender, race, age and sexuality. They may be overlooking an often-untapped talent pool: people with disabilities.

In recent years, the Singapore government has been ramping up its efforts to encourage employers to empower people with disabilities. This is backed by President Halimah Yacob and her belief that more needs to be done to provide job opportunities to persons with disabilities who have higher qualifications and are able to perform in technical fields.

As recently as 2020, SG Enable and the Tote Board partnered to launch a $25 million initiative with the dual aim of supporting projects that help people with disabilities and funding public education for a more inclusive society. Public education can kickstart organisations’ diversity and inclusion initiatives as we learn to look beyond the disability and see people with disabilities for who they are and their abilities.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Manpower in April this year, only 29 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 who have disabilities are employed. Despite a well-established movement by the Government to increase diversity in the workplace, on top of the efforts undertaken by organisations like SG Enable and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore which offer job opportunities and better support for persons with disabilities at the workplace, the representation of people with disabilities is disproportionately low.

Moving forward, organisations should look towards creating relevant training and employment opportunities for all, as well as promoting inclusive hiring as part of their overall employer brand, and talent attraction and retention strategy.

Disputing common myths about people with disabilities in the workplace

It should be acknowledged that while people with disabilities may need certain workplace accommodations, they are just as capable as anyone of being productive, dynamic members of any organisation. A healthier, more positive way to look at “disabilities” is that some individuals simply have different needs. Some may require support for physical impairments, while others need their employers to provide them with ways to navigate the workplace if they have invisible disabilities.

Advantages of an inclusive workplace

Employers who care for their employees and value their individual skillsets and abilities are more likely to enjoy higher retention rates. Employees that are happier, more engaged, and more comfortable, are more likely to stay and become highly productive members of the organisation. Increased diversity and inclusivity can also lead to having a great employer brand narrative. In other words, diversity can also promote significantly better financial performance, as well as more creativity and innovation, according to a McKinsey paper.

Additionally, sourcing underrepresented talent also positions a company to manage through challenging talent shortages. In Singapore’s current climate of talent shortages and competitive labour market, these are true advantages.

Enabling and empowering people with disabilities

Employers must address common prejudices against people with disabilities, and ensure that company policies can be customised to each person’s disability. Photo: Canva Pro

To begin building a more diversified workforce, organisations must first assess and communicate their company’s disability workforce policy, acknowledge that they have committed to hiring talent with disabilities and process a formal policy that outlines this commitment. Practicing transparency about the commitment with their employees, as well as externally, will ensure clarity in measuring progress toward hiring talent with disabilities.

The policies must also be clear about processes in place for employees with a disability to request reasonable accommodations, which can include workspace adjustments, job restructuring, assistive technology and modified work hours, should these measures be necessary. Investing in technology platforms that are compatible with major screen readers, enable zooming, or have options to adjust colour contrast are also some ways organisations can ensure that the company has an inclusive culture.

This should be reflected throughout all touchpoints during the recruitment process. Organisations should re-evaluate their attraction, application and hiring processes, and provide training for recruiters and hiring managers on appropriate audience etiquette for the interview process. We cannot understate the importance of training recruiters on alternative ways candidates can complete the application process. This makes sure all candidates have a smooth and efficient experience throughout the entire hiring process when they reach out for adjustments and accommodations to their needs.

Ultimately, employees and management alike stand to benefit from supporting inclusivity and diversity. This would involve addressing and disputing common myths and prejudices against people with disabilities, and ensuring that company policies can be customised to each person’s disability. Not only does this open up more opportunities for employees, it also enables and empowers them to thrive in the workplace. This may just be the next step forward for the future workforce.

About the Author

Kumar Bhaya | Vice President, APAC | Cielo

Kumar has over 20 years of regional experience in talent acquisition, ranging from executive search to recruitment process outsourcing. He works with organisations across sectors to understand their goals and challenges around talent and develops tailored solutions for them. He serves as a talent advisor to firms that are looking for an innovative, technology and brand-enabled approach to securing quality talent across Asia Pacific.

How Singapore can tap into the disability talent market to build an inclusive workforce in a tight labour market (asme.org.sg)


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