Employers urged to design more inclusive workplaces

President Halimah Yacob watching Hadi Ukasyah Noor Asahar, 14, prepare food in the kitchen of Colours Cafe at St Andrew's Autism School yesterday. The in-house school cafe is run by students capable of work, so that they can develop skills and work h
President Halimah Yacob watching Hadi Ukasyah Noor Asahar, 14, prepare food in the kitchen of Colours Cafe at St Andrew's Autism School yesterday. The in-house school cafe is run by students capable of work, so that they can develop skills and work habits to take up jobs in the future. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

When Sharlyne Lee, 16, graduates from St Andrew's Autism School (SAAS) in two years, she hopes to work as a jewellery designer or at a food and beverage outlet.

Through vocational skills training at the school, which caters to students between seven and 18 with moderate to severe autism, she has learnt to make bracelets and necklaces, and also to help prepare food and wash dishes.

During her visit to the school yesterday, President Halimah Yacob said she hoped that employers will design their workplaces for people with special needs.

She said: "We need to encourage employers to look at designing workplaces for people with different abilities so they can avoid incurring additional cost and disruption to the workplace. If, from the very beginning, you have designed your workplace for people with different abilities, it gives you a great deal of flexibility to include our students with special needs who have gone through special education.

"I hope this is something employers will think about and follow through as that will provide a lot more opportunities for our special needs students."

This was Madam Halimah's sixth visit this year to a school that supports students with special educational needs.

During her tour of the premises, she visited Colours Cafe, an in-house school cafe run by SAAS students capable of work, so that they can develop skills and work habits to take up jobs in the future.

Started in 2016, the cafe lets the students take on roles and responsibilities such as manning the cashier and food preparation under their teachers' supervision.

Madam Halimah also observed a class where eight students were taught to make jewellery and art pieces using beads. The beading class, which takes place twice a week, was introduced at the beginning of the year by the teachers. .

SAAS principal Diana Chin said: "The education and training is to prepare these students to function as well as possible in the community to participate and even contribute in some way. It is also important to let society know that these kids have a voice, their own character, personality, strengths and interests."

The school has seen enrolment surge up to 13 per cent year on year since 2016. It has 287 students now and hopes to have 312 students next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2019, with the headline 'Employers urged to design more inclusive workplaces'. Subscribe