President Halimah encourages employers to design workplaces to include people with special needs

St Andrew's Autism School teacher Karen Seow (right) explaining to President Halimah Yacob how beading keeps students like Zhafran Murat and Sharlyne Lee meaningfully engaged and prepares them for work and independence after school. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

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

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

President Halimah Yacob, during a visit to the school on Tuesday (Sept 24), 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 that this is something employers will think about and follow through as that will provide a lot more opportunities for our special needs students."

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

During her tour of the premises, the President visited Colours Cafe, an in-house school cafe run by SAAS students capable of work to 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 in cashiering and food preparation under their teachers' supervision.

Madam Halimah also observed a beading session, where a class of eight students between 14 and 16 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 form teachers after they realised their students were interested.

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

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

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