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Singapore unveils plans to provide people with disabilities with customised job coaching

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SINGAPORE: As a digital services assistant with the National Library Board (NLB), Mr Elliot Goh spends his time scanning documents and turning them into soft copies.

The 21-year-old, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, took four months to prepare for the job.

He joined the Autism Resource Centre’s Employability and Employment Centre (E2C) in July last year, going through the pre-assessment and assessment processes, which identifies Mr Goh’s strengths and weaknesses and his motivation to work.

Initially, E2C found that Mr Goh was not ready for direct employment. It sent him for interim training instead – at a sewing class where he picked up some soft skills. Then, E2C started training him specifically for the job with NLB.

“Being able to work at an actual worksite helped him to understand his strengths and interests much better,” said Mr Goh’s mother Angel Cheah. “He was very motivated after he experienced working at the worksite.” 

According to Mr Goh, E2C gave him the necessary instruction to help him do the work and taught him to learn from his mistakes.

The job support by E2C helps Mr Goh perform his job better, said Ms Cheah.  “He is slowly gaining confidence in his ability to do a good job. He is very enthusiastic about his job and looks forward to going to work.”

The salary he earns also gives him a measure of financial independence. He said he hopes to use the money to buy himself lunch and some new books.

READ: Independent living, employment among focus of Singapore’s first master plan for people with autism

As part of continued efforts to empower people with disabilities, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) announced on Wednesday (Apr 14) a slew of new initiatives. They were adopted from 21 recommendations submitted by two workgroups under the third Enabling Masterplan.

The recommendations will be progressively implemented over the next few years. 

The Employment Workgroup’s 10 recommendations focus on employment for people with disabilities.

The Independent Living Workgroup’s 11 recommendations, meanwhile, focus on the accessibility of the built environment and information and services. It also aims to increase the use of assistive technology, raise awareness of disability and promote inclusion. 

ENABLING BUSINESS HUBS

To help people with disabilities in their work, MSF plans to pilot an Enabling Business Hub which is expected to be operational from 2023.

It will include on-site job support and a structured environment to work in, similar to the job coaching that Mr Goh received from E2C.

MSF aims to help at least 50 people through this pilot.

One of the “root causes” that contribute to lower unemployment rates of people with disabilities is their own capabilities, said Member of Parliament Denise Phua. She is also president of the Autism Resource Centre.

“They have to be built and trained and supported, and also take the initiative to learn as well,” she said.

READ: Guide for companies to integrate persons with special needs to be rolled out

READ: S$25 million initiative launched to support people with disabilities and build inclusivity

According to MSF, people with disabilities and their caregivers told the workgroup that they wanted more opportunities for “supported employment”, closer to where they live.

That is what MSF will do in locating the business hubs, said Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

“All these years, we have been trying to enable persons with disabilities so that they can work like us,” he said, adding that it could be a setting like the Enabling Village where the Government provides equipment support to allow them to produce goods and services or to work in places that have been adapted for them.

“We hope that more of them can be absorbed into the normal workforce by either providing them the support that they need, training that the employers would want us to give, and at the same time schemes that are available to enable the employment of persons with disabilities.” 

MAKING THE CBD ACCESSIBLE

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will set up two community partnership groups to improve accessibility in the central business district and one Housing and Development Board (HDB) town.

While almost every HDB flat has barrier-free access, there are still some areas to be improved on, said Mr Masagos.

This includes last-mile gaps in barrier-free accessibility, especially in areas within the city centre where there are older developments, said MSF in a media release.

READ: Hugs and heartaches: Ageing parents stay strong despite challenges raising children with autism

Independent living is important for people with disabilities as it is about “dignity”, said Ms Chia Yong Yong, a board advisory panel member of local charity SPD. 

“When we look at independent living, what we really want to achieve is the ability for people to go out of their homes and to be able to interact. To go for training, go for school, get a job and go out with friends and family,” she said.

“What we want to achieve with independent living is for people at home to be able to move about on our own, get things done as much as possible on their own with minimal reliance on others.”

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