Study on bias at work against those with disabilities

The research team includes (first row from left) Ms Kerri Heng, Mr Lawrence Cai, Ms Jorain Ng; and (second row from left) Mr Marcus Quah, Ms Jan Evans, Mr Timothy Ng, Ms Lisa Loh and Mr Alvan Yap.
The research team includes (first row from left) Ms Kerri Heng, Mr Lawrence Cai, Ms Jorain Ng; and (second row from left) Mr Marcus Quah, Ms Jan Evans, Mr Timothy Ng, Ms Lisa Loh and Mr Alvan Yap.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Bid to understand why discrimination exists, what it means to people and how to prevent it

They believe in "nothing about us without us" at the Disabled People's Association (DPA).

So two people from the association, both with disabilities, have launched a study to investigate discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace.

The study stands out in that it is conceived of and conducted largely by people with disabilities.

"We intend to understand why discrimination exists, what it means to people and how to prevent it from happening," said the study's principal investigator Jorain Ng, a DPA advocacy executive.

Last month, the association started collecting data from people with disabilities who say they face discrimination at the workplace.

"It could be those in part-time employment, it could be sheltered workshops. We've heard from someone in a sheltered workshop that those with intellectual disabilities are bullied by those with physical disabilities," said Ms Ng, who has a congenital arm defect.

First, 30 people will keep a month's journal detailing their history, feedback and personal experience on the issue, as well as what they observe at the workplace. Researchers will pick 10 journals with the richest data for detailed interviews.

The study's other principal investigator is Mr Alvan Yap, who is hearing impaired.

Of its nine research volunteers and two research participants, eight have a disability.

This study is done in collaboration with the Institute of Policy Studies and comprises three stages. First, 30 people will keep a month's journal detailing their history, feedback and personal experience on the issue, as well as what they observe at the workplace.

Researchers will pick 10 journals with the richest data for detailed interviews. They will then conduct focus group discussions with a wider community of people with disabilities and stakeholders such as caregivers, employers and voluntary welfare organisations.

Researchers expect the study to be ready by March next year. They hope to submit their findings to the Government to provide input for the new Enabling Masterplan - a five-year national plan to chart policies and services for people with disabilities which is expected to be announced by next year.

The study's findings can also form the basis for public education campaigns. If the findings show that policy changes are necessary, the DPA intends to call for workplace discrimination legislation.

Australia, for example, has a Disability Discrimination Act which protects those with disabilities from discrimination at work and school, as well as protects their relatives, caregivers and co-workers.

In a similar vein, a Singapore mental wellness advocacy group, Silver Ribbon, last month called for employers to stop asking potential employees if they have a history of mental illness in their job application forms.

"We'll ask them what they think about overseas legislation... and what they feel could be done in terms of the policies and legislation to improve their situation. So we're using their feedback for legislative recommendations going forward," said Ms Ng.

Researchers have 10 participants for the journal exercise now and need 20 more.

People with disabilities who are experiencing workplace discrimination can write in to advocacy@dpa.org.sg if they are interested in joining the study.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Study on bias at work against those with disabilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe