Disabled workers face greater difficulties in job searches

(Image and video by Royston Poh)

Sharing The Lion City – Employers are increasingly more open to hiring persons with disabilities.

In 2012, 275 job vacancies for persons with disabilities were listed with the Open Door Fund. Compared with only 121 job vacancies listed in 2010, the number of jobs available for persons with disabilities has more than doubled in the last two years.However, while employers are more willing to hire persons with disabilities, there is a lack of awareness of how they can successfully integrate a person with disability into their workforce.

Awareness Needed for Job Accommodation

In the United States, reasonable accommodation is a statutory requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The United States Department of Labor defines job accommodation as a reasonable adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with disability to perform job duties. Accommodations could include the use of assistive devices, specialized equipment, facility modification and adjustments to work hours or duties.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy that provides employers with free consultation on accommodations. According to JAN, the ADA requires reasonable accommodation in three aspects of employment:

  1. To ensure equal opportunity in the application process.
  2. To enable a qualified individual with disability to perform on the job.
  3. To enable an employee with disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

In Singapore, there is no legislation that requires employers to provide job accommodation. Instead, the government provides funds to support employers who provide equal opportunities in seeking employment.

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The Open Door Fund supports cost in job redesign, workplace modification as well as integration and apprenticeship programmes for persons with disabilities. Since the launch of the Open Door Fund in May 2007, more than S$1.5 million from has been used to support employers hiring persons with disabilities.

Jeffrey Chin, senior assistant director, Society for the Physically Disabled said that employers in Singapore hire persons with disability as a form of corporate social responsibility or as a means to reduce their dependence on foreign labor and comply with Singapore’s employment quotas.

“While employers are more open to hiring persons with disabilities, many are not fully aware of the accommodations needed for them to be productive in the workplace,” said Chin, “without accommodation, job seekers with disabilities cannot be placed in many job vacancies.”

For job seekers with disabilities, disclosure is a natural step that precedes a discussion for accommodation. However, with the low awareness among employers and the absence of legal requirement to provide accommodation, job seekers with disabilities have to carefully handle disability disclosure.

Disabled Handle Disclosure in Different Ways

Singapore does not have any anti-discriminatory legislation, but instead promotes fair, responsible and merit-based employment practices through the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP). More than 2,400 organizations have signed the Employers’ Pledge of Fair Employment Practices to date.

Hearing Impaired

Ong Shi Yi, 29, who has a hearing impairment, only discloses her disability in her applications to companies who are listed as pledge signers on TAFEP’s website. Ong states her hearing disability in her resume and indicates “SMS only” next to her mobile number.

However, many employers continue to contact her by calling through fixed phone lines where she can neither tell what they are saying nor respond via text messaging. Ong had to rely on her friends to answer some of these phone calls and explained that she had a hearing impairment.

“Looking for a job was very difficult for me, I felt that I had wasted four years of my time getting a degree,” Ong said.

Currently employed as an executive with SG Enable, Ong spent four years completing a degree in mechanical engineering from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Hearing aids allow the hearing impaired individual to perceive sounds in the environment. Depending on the degree of hearing loss, individuals with hearing impairment still need to rely on lip reading in order to communicate.

“For deaf and hearing impaired people, we rely a lot on looking at the speakers face and body language,” said Alvan Yap, 36, who has a hearing impairment.

Yap graduated with a bachelor degree in 2001 and chose to be upfront about his disability in his job search. Yap disclosed his hearing impairment through his resume or job application forms. However, he felt that he was disadvantaged as it took him more than a year to secured a job.

Hearing impairment is often considered an invisible disability. However, it is not something that can be hidden from an employer.

“I cannot take phone calls, hear in noisy environments or participate in large meetings where many are talking at the same time,” said Yap, “these are very common situations in the workplace where I will face difficulties.”

Vision Impaired

Persons with vision impairments can be classified into two groups, those with total blindness and those with low vision. Non-disclosure is more common among those with low vision. Like many others with low vision, Toh Chin Aik, 42, did not disclose his disability in his job applications.

“Initially when I first graduated, I did not declare my disability so that I could have a chance of being interviewed,” Toh said.

It was during the interview that Toh had a chance to answer questions and clarify doubts that the recruiter may have about his disability.

“For some with marginal low vision, they can cope pretty well with close reading, so they choose not to declare their disability,” said Toh, “instead they tell their employer and colleagues that they have sever myopia.”

Soh Yee How, Managing Director Xpressflower.com, encountered a job candidate who chose not to disclose her vision impairment. On her first day of work, he discovered that she had low vision and was not able to read from the computer. While this problem could have been easily solved with assistive technology, the lack of disclosure resulted in embarrassment on the part of the candidate and her employment was terminated in less than two hours.

Physically Disabled

While some persons with disabilities may choose not to disclose their disability in job applications, others choose to state their disabilities upfront. This practice is common among wheelchair users who require accommodations during job interviews.

Disability Disclosure is a Personal Decision

The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youths with Disabilities by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability (NCWD) in the United States guides job seekers with disabilities in making their personal choice on disclosure. The workbooks help job seekers with disabilities to determine:

  1. When to disclose on the job.
  2. What information to disclose on the job.
  3. To whom to disclose on the job.
  4. Rights and responsibilities.

The decision to disclose a disability involves many different considerations. However, disclosure must first be made in order for persons with disabilities to request for job accommodation. To help persons with disabilities feel comfortable and confident in making disclosure, employers need to be able to provide reasonable accommodation during the application process as well as when they are on the job.

This article was first published in http://www.sharingthelioncity.com/disability-disclosure/