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Allaying carers’ fears one issue in finding work for disabled

Caregivers say they are not averse to letting their charges work, but more could be done to assuage their concerns about the work environment.

SINGAPORE: As efforts continue to help people with disabilities find employment, the challenge, it appears, is not with getting enough companies to offer vacancies, but also in assuaging the concerns of caregivers about letting their charges go to work.

Checks showed that as of last month, there were 390 job vacancies from companies under the Open Door Programme – a scheme the Government expanded in April with a S$30 million fund injection to boost the employment of people with disabilities. But since January, SG Enable, an agency which provides services for the disabled, has managed to place only 111 people with disabilities in employment.

Caregivers TODAY spoke to said that although they were not averse to letting their charges work, more could be done to assuage their concerns about the work environment, which are holding some back from letting their charges step into the workforce.

Mrs Susan Koh, whose teenage son Gary has autism, said her main concern is if his co-workers “also accept him as he is”. She hopes that when her son goes out to work, there would be an officer who can monitor how he adapts to the workplace and socialises.

She added that she hopes potential employers who redesign jobs for people with disabilities would be flexible enough to accommodate the varying needs of their hires, such as letting those with autism work for only a few hours a day, given that it is hard for them to concentrate for long.

Mrs Margaret Goh, whose son Goh Jin Kian, 20, has Down’s syndrome and started an internship doing food production at Han’s cafe last year, agreed that it can be a nerve-racking time for caregivers when their charges land a job.

“Frankly, we really did not know what to expect as this was my son’s first attempt to work in an open employment setting. I was naturally anxious for him,” the housewife said, adding that she feared he would not inform her if he faced any issues at work.

But her worries were assuaged when Han’s gave her an orientation of the work space and allowed her to coach her son in his first two weeks of work until he had settled in.

His son is very happy at work now, she said, and even asked to go in before his shift so he could have lunch with his friends. She attributed these to Han’s being very encouraging, citing how owner Han Choon Fook had even asked her son how he would like to be addressed – his colleagues now call him “Mr Goh”.

“There is dignity in what he’s doing,” she said.

Associate Professor Noel Chia, who focuses on special needs education, said parents’ hesitation to let their children with disabilities work is caused by the lack of an “emotional transition” between when they realise their child was different to when they learn to let go. “They will continue to see their teenage child as a vulnerable individual in the world outside family or home,” he noted.

“Unless there is a proper transition by a counsellor, social worker or family therapist trained to provide such advice to parents helping them to accept this separate identity, parents will not learn or be prepared to accept separateness of their adult child with special needs.”

Society for the Physically Disabled executive director Abhimanyau Pal added: “It is not unexpected that caregivers of some people with disabilities, especially those who acquire their disabilities through a life-threatening experience, would be more concerned about their loved one’s well-being and so become more cautious, especially when they are presented with choices that seem to test their limits.

“We need to manage the expectations of both the employer and employee to facilitate successful job matching. It helps when employers are also open to job redesigning so that a role can be broken down into functions and redistributed according to abilities.”