Welcome boost for SPD trainees

SPD trainee Lim Tow Chong packing goodie bags. He goes to the workshop on a motorised scooter but transfers to a wheelchair for his job. Mr Lim is among a group of workers aged 18 to their 60s who have physical or development disabilities, or visual
SPD trainee Lim Tow Chong packing goodie bags. He goes to the workshop on a motorised scooter but transfers to a wheelchair for his job. Mr Lim is among a group of workers aged 18 to their 60s who have physical or development disabilities, or visual or hearing impairment. They spend 44 hours a week on packing jobs that the SPD sub-contracts from other organisations.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

$10,000 donation from Japanese insurer helps make for improved working conditions

For nearly 50 years, a sheltered workshop in Tiong Bahru has been providing jobs to people with disabilities.

While they packed bottled soda into wooden crates in the 1960s, they now pack items such as packet drinks and vouchers into goodie bags for marathons in the city.

The workshop was set up in 1967 with a donation from the Rotary Club of Singapore and later became part of the headquarters of the SPD, formerly the Society for the Physically Disabled, in Peng Nguan Street, Tiong Bahru.

When The Straits Times visited the workshop run by SPD last month, scores of people were packing the 12,000 goodie bags for the Green Corridor Run, which was held two weeks ago.

Called trainees, such workers are aged 18 to their 60s and have physical or development disabilities, or visual or hearing impairment. Most are wheelchair users.

They spend 44 hours a week on packing jobs that the SPD sub-contracts from other organisations.

SMOOTHER AND FASTER PROCESS

The goods move faster with the pallets and I can distribute the items to my fellow trainees down the line more effectively.

MR LEE BOON KIAN, who has been using a wheelchair since he had a stroke in 1998, on how the pallets help improve productivity

Until a $10,000 donation last month for equipment such as new wheelchairs, trainees were using items that were nearly 10 years old.

The sum was donated by the Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Welfare Foundation, the social welfare arm of Japan's largest general insurance company.

It was the foundation's third contribution to Singapore and its managing director Takanori Ono said it picked SPD for "its effort in advocating inclusion and acceptance of persons with disabilities".

With the money, SPD bought 12 manual wheelchairs, 100 plastic pallets, 750 cardboard boxes and four cage trolleys that can secure stacked boxes for the workshop.

While they are not high-tech, they promise to make work easier for the workshop's 100 trainees.

For instance, the plastic pallets will come in helpful as the old wooden pallets are mostly broken, making it hard to move goods from the ground-floor carpark to the fifth floor, where the packing is done. The goods are stacked on the pallets and moved using a pallet jack.

The new manual wheelchairs will help trainees such as Mr Lim Tow Chong, who goes to the workshop on his motorised scooter. Mr Lim, 53, needs to transfer to a wheelchair as the scooter is too high for the workbench.

Having spare wheelchairs also helps in emergencies such as fires, as trainees need to be evacuated down five storeys through a winding ramp at the side of the building, called the SPD Ability Centre.

Mr Lee Boon Kian, 46, who has been using a wheelchair since he had a stroke in 1998, is a line leader who assigns packing jobs to fellow trainees.

"The goods move faster with the pallets and I can distribute the items to my fellow trainees down the line more effectively. This helps to improve the workshop's productivity," said Mr Lee, who has been working at the SPD since 2002.

"It's a lot faster," he added.

Productivity has improved and the time taken to complete packing jobs is now shorter, said the SPD.

Mr Jeffrey Chin, deputy director of SPD's adult and elderly services division, said the increased productivity means the workshop can take on more packing jobs.

The cage trolleys bought with the donation also help save space. The workshop can now stack up its boxes in trolleys and use the extra space to bring in more goods for other packing jobs.

"We're not filled to capacity yet. We're always ready to take in higher-value jobs and more jobs," he said. "More packing jobs also means we can give the trainees higher allowances."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Welcome boost for SPD trainees'. Print Edition | Subscribe