Do more to help those with disabilities in the workplace

The report "Teacher jailed for abusing autistic pupil, 9" (Oct 9),indicates only the tip of a terrible iceberg.

Children and youth with disabilities and special needs in Singapore are nurtured and protected reasonably well.

Schools have allied educators and counsellors, and institutes offering vocational courses have dedicated teachers and job coaches who support interns in the workplace.

However, all these fall apart when the youth turns 18 and graduates.

Without adequate support, most individuals with disabilities and special needs do not thrive in the workplace despite being hired by well-intentioned employers and having the necessary qualifications and skills.

Employees with developmental disabilities are most susceptible to workplace abuse as they do not have the capacity to stand up for themselves or adequately articulate the problems they face in their workplace.

One type of abuse most parents and caregivers complain about is the verbal abuse of the individual, without the employer identifying problem behaviours or providing suggestions to resolve these.

Other employment irregularities include not being given copies of contracts for their personal reference. Parents and caregivers tend not to interfere as they do not want to risk their wards losing the job opportunity.

While the Government has laid down impressive plans as part of the Third Enabling Masterplan to accommodate an increasing number of adults with disabilities in the workplace, parents and caregivers are not aware of where and how to register workplace grievances. A way around this would be to have an official central registry of people with disabilities.

Moreover, focus group discussions for people with disabilities and their caregivers, similar to Our Singapore Conversation, could shed light on the challenges and possible solutions. These could later be discussed with employers to see how the solutions could be implemented without impacting their businesses.

In the absence of job coaches, parents and caregivers should be given the opportunity to represent their ward during their employment, understand their specific challenges at work and participate in problem resolution while recognising and respecting the needs and realities of the employers.

Bayanagari Malavika (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2018, with the headline 'Do more to help those with disabilities in the workplace'. Print Edition | Subscribe