Pilot programme helps people with intellectual disabilities find work near their homes

Tampines West CC cleaner Saravanan Kumarasamy, seen here with his sister Selvarani, is among the participants in the programme. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - A pilot scheme to help people with intellectual disabilities find work near their homes in heartland spaces like community clubs and gardens was launched on Monday (June 20).

Ten people have found work as cleaners and gardeners, among other roles, through this year-long initiative called the Community Employment Programme-Inclusive Employment.

The North East Community Development Council (CDC), which partnered the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) on the programme, aims to expand it to 30 people by the year end.

The scheme is part of efforts here to help people with disabilities find jobs where they can contribute to society, said Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli at the launch.

The programme is a first for North East CDC, and the council hopes to partner with more social service agencies and corporates.

The pioneering batch of participants in the programme started work at Tampines Changkat community gardens and Tampines West Community Club on June 1.

They are taken to their workplaces and back home in a bus chartered by Minds.

One of them is Mr Saravanan Kumarasamy, 30, a cleaner at Tampines West CC.

His sister and caregiver Selvarani Kumarasamy said she was glad that her younger brother found this job.

"He enjoys the work. He tells us about his work every day," she said, adding that the additional source of income and job benefits help with her brother and family's expenses.

The participants had been trained previously in the same roles at the Minds Idea Employment Development Centre, and were selected for the pilot as they performed well.

They work for four hours a day, and take home a monthly salary of $500 to $600.

Explaining why the roles were chosen, the district's Mayor Desmond Choo said gardening work is tactile and is a form of therapy for people with intellectual disabilities. Cleaning and maintenance work are also roles that are more repetitive and manageable for them, he added.

He said there is a need to find work that suits the varying abilities of people with intellectual disabilities.

"The potential for this programme is quite immense. The spirit of it is something that can be carried through islandwide. We have over a hundred community clubs. We have a few hundred community gardens and spaces," he added.

Mr Choo said North East CDC is looking at more permanent employment for people with intellectual disabilities as well, and to go beyond jobs in the heartland with partnering companies. "We're not precluding that they continue in this function for even longer and see it as something more permanent (beyond the year-long programme).

"We're also exploring new areas we can go into. So we're building up a portfolio of companies that are willing to take on some of our trainees for longer-term deployment."

Mr Bryan Lim, director of residential- and centre-based services at Minds, said the initiative increases the visibility of people with intellectual disabilities in the community, as the participants get to interact with volunteer gardeners and other people in the neighbourhood.

Mr Masagos said the pilot programme will provide participants with job experience to build confidence and skills for future long-term employment. It will also connect them with employers in the vicinity and increase accessibility to job opportunities, he added.

He said the pilot programme tackles barriers faced by some people with disabilities in their job search and employment process, citing feedback on how some turned down job offers due to a lack of transportation or accessibility.

He added that Singapore has been actively developing Enabling Masterplans over the years, which work towards the vision of an inclusive society. This means "a society where they can participate fully, as integral and contributing members of our community", he said.

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