72 firms and individuals recognised for hiring and working with people with disabilities

United Overseas Bank began hiring people with autism in 2013 to work at its UOB Scan Hub, a department that scans and archives customers' documents.
United Overseas Bank began hiring people with autism in 2013 to work at its UOB Scan Hub, a department that scans and archives customers' documents.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Seventy-two firms and people were recognised on Friday (July 21) for their efforts at making their workplaces welcoming to people with disabilities.

United Overseas Bank (UOB), for example, began hiring people with autism in 2013 to work at its UOB Scan Hub, a department that scans and archives customers' documents. Now, out of its 56 employees there, 19 are autistic while four others have hearing impairments.

The bank clinched one of the top accolades at the 4th Enabling Employers Awards, organised by SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling people with disabilities to thrive and be included in society. It won a "Leaders" award, alongside NTUC FairPrice Co-operative and Uniqlo (Singapore).

UOB's head of group technology and operations, Ms Susan Hwee, came up with the idea to hire people with disabilities. She said that when UOB began focusing more on archival and scanning documents, the turnover rate was about 50 per cent because the job required high levels of focus and was repetitive.

She said: "I personally have an interest in learning disabilities, and wondered if we could tap a larger labour pool that is overlooked."

She realised that people with autism had characteristics well-suited to the job - such as their focus and inclination towards structure. Now, the turnover rate in the department is 5 per cent, and productivity since 2013 has increased by 101 per cent.

Ms Hwee said UOB is looking to employ more people with disabilities.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said that employers who are more inclusive experience a more inclusive and caring working culture, and highlighted how the employees themselves impress their colleagues with their positive attitudes and desire to learn new skills.

SG Enable chief executive Ku Geok Boon said that the contribution and dedication of the winners are reminders "that we can all play a part in strengthening an inclusive culture".

She said: "We hope that their stories will continue to encourage and inspire other employers and employees to come forward and provide more opportunities to persons with disabilities."

This year's awards also featured a new category that recognises co-workers or supervisors who support colleagues or subordinates with disabilities. One of the three winners of the Enabling Buddies award is environmental services supervisor Davis Chew, who works at Yishun Community Hospital.

He supervises 38 people who clean the hospital, and in April last year, his team was joined by two people with mild intellectual disabilities - 28-year-old Cheng Siew Peng and 27-year-old Nur A'zienee Ansa Muhammad Ayoob.

It usually takes one week to train new employees, but it took Mr Chew around three weeks to train the two. What he found most difficult was communicating with Ms Cheng, who was very shy and did not speak or make eye contact.

After around two months, he gained their trust such that they began to offer him food almost every time they saw him.

When asked why he made extra effort to help them, Mr Chew, who has two daughters aged one and two, said: "I'm a father. If my children have disabilities, I want other people to help them too."