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Special needs students get shopping – and increase their employability

Started by the Enabling Employers Network in 2012, this is the fifth “Learning Journey” to help more employers understand how they can integrate people with disabilities into their workforce.

SINGAPORE: More than 40 intellectually-disabled students from Fernvale Gardens School got a chance to do some light shopping on Thursday (July 24), as prospective employers also learnt about the hiring potential of the disabled.

Started by the Enabling Employers Network in 2012, this is the fifth “Learning Journey” to help more employers understand how they can integrate people with disabilities (PWDs) into their workforce. This year's event was organised by SG Enable, a government-established agency which provides services for the disabled.

Thursday’s event was the first time a retail company was taking part, although Uniqlo has previously organised its own In-Store Shopping Experience programme, which saw students of a MINDS Special Education School given S$100 each to shop at a one of the Japanese retailer's Singapore outlets.

Mr Onoguchi Satoshi, Managing Director of Uniqlo Singapore, said the programme is part of efforts to help students integrate into the community. Such activities enable the students to make independent decisions on fashion and budgeting, he said, and help instil confidence and develop critical soft skills that the students lack, thereby increasing their employability.

Uniqlo employs 23 individuals with disabilities across its 18 Singapore stores, the highest PWD-to-store ratio among its global operations. These employees are held to the same standards set out for regular staff, the company said, adding that it is working with SG Enable to train other PWDs to work in the retail sector.

“I have been working here since November 2013,” said Johannes Cheong, an intellectually disabled Uniqlo employee. “They taught me new things; I now know how to hang and display clothes. I feel good and happy.”
Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development, said there are many companies looking to help out in similar ways. “Through such collective efforts, we hope to be able to empower more persons with disabilities – allowing them also to be gainfully employed in time to come,” she said.

Several local and international companies not yet part of the Enabling Employers Network attended Thursday’s event, including BreadTalk, Charles and Keith, Ikano and Hilton International.

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