People with disabilities bring new perspectives, strengths to workplace, say forum panellists

Mr Yeong Zhi Wei (right), a cybersecurity specialist with GovTech Singapore who is deaf, communicating with DPM Lawrence Wong (third right) and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua (second right) via hand signs. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
(From left) Researcher and artist Dawn-joy Leong, Etch Empathy disability services leader Joshua Tseng, forum moderator Genevieve Woo, Temasek Polytechnic special education needs officer Winston Wong and Deutsche Bank assistant vice-president for corporate banking, relationship and transaction management Ong Hua Han, at the Inclusive Business Forum on Aug 25, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - For Mr Ong Hua Han, who was born with brittle bone disease - which gives him soft bones that break easily - and uses a wheelchair, getting to and around the workplace is a daily challenge.

But that has not stopped the National University of Singapore business graduate, 29, from rising through the ranks and becoming assistant vice-president of corporate banking, relationship and transaction management at Deutsche Bank.

Mr Ong was among four working people with disabilities (PWDs) who spoke in a panel discussion at Thursday's (Aug 25) Inclusive Business Forum on how PWDs bring new perspectives which can help companies reach previously untapped markets and talent pools.

The biennial forum, held at Mediacorp's theatre in one-north, was organised by SG Enable, which released the results of a new study it had commissioned at the event. The study found that more disability-inclusive practices in firms lead to more purpose-driven employees, more customer-centric thinking and a more collaborative culture.

The study, which was conducted between January and May this year, is based on answers to a questionnaire by 133 respondents from 27 companies in sectors such as hospitality, food and beverage, tech start-ups and financial services.

Debunking the perception that PWDs hold back the team, Mr Josh Tseng, who is visually impaired and director of digital accessibility services at non-profit social enterprise Etch Empathy, said employers should focus on maximising the abilities of PWDs rather than making assumptions about their disabilities.

For instance, while he cannot do graphic design, he can take on writing and even media production work - something his employers did not know he was capable of, Mr Tseng said.

"There are ways for someone like me, for example, to interact with computer software and contribute to that.

"I've done jobs related to writing and even media production. Those are jobs that you wouldn't think were possible," he added.

Artist and autism researcher, Dr Dawn-joy Leong, who is autistic, brought up the Calm Room she designed at the National Gallery as an example of how universal design - which makes environments accessible to all - can benefit not just PWDs, but other employees as well.

"It (the room) is not just for autistic or neuro-divergent people, or people with sensory needs. It's open to the public because everybody who needs a break can enjoy it. But most specially, they can enjoy it (in) the way people with hyper senses enjoy it."

Mr Tseng said inclusive workplaces lead to better employee engagement and retention as workers have more confidence that their employers care about their well-being.

He added: "If someone with a disability can be employed gainfully and use his best potential, and be accommodated properly in an organisation, he might feel like, 'If something does happen to me, my employer has my back'."

Mr Andrew Buay, vice-president of group corporate sustainability at Singtel, said at another panel discussion with corporates that the telco had an employee with cerebral palsy who reviewed and improved the accessibility of its retail shops and websites.

This shows how PWDs provide a unique lens that helps Singtel close gaps and better serve those among its customer base who have disabilities, he said.

Mr Ong said employers should consider how job candidates with disabilities had to overcome startling odds to reach the same point as their able-bodied counterparts.

He gave the example of employers having to choose between two individuals who have the same resumes and are the same in all respects, except that one has a disability. "Would you pick the one who is more typical, or you pick the one in a wheelchair?" he asked.

"Maybe there are hidden merits to hiring the person in a wheelchair because he is able to conceive of different ways to get to the same platform as the other guy... Perhaps he may have more resilience; he may be more resourceful.

"So if you broaden your mind and be open about hiring persons with disabilities, then you really are looking at an untapped talent pool you probably didn't imagine before."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.