SINGAPORE: A fall from height in June 2018 left J P Thanumadhya with multiple fractures in her spine, pelvis and ankles.
It took a year-and-a-half before her doctor gave her the green light to go back to work. But there was another hurdle to overcome.
“Even before the COVID thing, I was actually trying to go for interviews (but I) got rejected so many times," said the 27-year-old. "Like (they would say) 'okay, I'll call you back'. But then I call them or message them back (and they would tell me) 'sorry the position is closed’."
She had applied for front-desk or receptionist roles, some of which required her to walk around at times.
Due to her injuries, Ms Thanumadhya cannot stand for too long, but she said this does not hinder her ability to work.
“I can still (walk), just not standing stationary at one place. Other than that I can do normal stuff. So I was actually a bit sad that I couldn't get that kind of job,” she said.
She wanted to find work so she could be independent and depend less on her family members, especially since she has younger siblings her parents need to look after.
Finally, Ms Thanumadhya got a job in July as a call centre operator at Certis, working four days a week on a 12-hour shift as part of a 110-person team which phones people under quarantine to check on their temperature.
She was referred to the job by SPD, a charity serving people with disabilities in Singapore.
"After (I) got into Certis, I was actually a bit afraid (because if I sit for) too long I'm scared my leg will swell up," said Ms Thanumadhya. "But actually it's okay because they know my situation, so at times I tend to walk around then I come back and sit, so actually it helps the blood circulate."
“So far it's been very good, because the (people) here are very good, friendly and … I don't have to strain (myself) so much when I'm working," she added.
“I think it's actually a very good start to come out from your own shell. I mean if you're not going to help yourself, no one is going to help you."
Ms Thanumadhya is one of two disabled individuals working at Certis, best known for its auxiliary policing services, under the security firm’s new disability campaign called "Breaking Barriers" launched on Wednesday (Aug 19).
Certis, which has 16,000 employees in Singapore, has existing disabled workers in other roles like aviation security operations and cash management.
Under the new initiative, Certis will work with SPD to employ disabled people and train security officers - many of whom patrol commercial buildings and transit hubs - on how to deal with disabled members of the public.
It will also conduct activities such as exercise classes online for Certis employees and SPD beneficiaries.
Certis’ senior vice-president and head of group human resources, corporate planning, communications and marketing Tan Toi Chia said his organisation had been working with SPD for about two years as part of its corporate social responsibility programme, and were discussing how they could work with each other.
Speaking during a virtual press briefing, he said the new initiative was the company’s way of encouraging mindsets towards disabilities to change and promoting more diverse hiring.
Ms Thanumadhya’s colleague Loo Poh Thye also took on his role as a Certis call centre operator through SPD.
The former sundry goods company manager suffered a stroke in May 2017 that affected the left side of his body.
Through SPD, Mr Loo initially found work as a part-time fulfilment packer last year, but he was laid off in April as the company’s bottom line was affected by COVID-19. He was brought into Certis in July.
The job, which pays S$12 to S$15 an hour, is about a fifth of what Mr Loo used to earn, but he said this was not an issue as both his children are grown up, and his wife works as a therapy assistant.
“As long as I can have a normal life …. I’m contented,” he said.
Both Ms Thanumadhya and Mr Loo were referred to SPD while undergoing rehabilitation at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
So far, they are the only two who have gotten a job at Certis under the new initiative, but Mr Tan said they aim to hire more people with disabilities, and to offer them permanent positions.
This includes finding Ms Thanumadhya and Mr Loo fixed positions elsewhere in Certis once the call centre operations end.
“I think this next step we are taking with SPD … it’s really for us to completely rethink our jobs, when we hire, when we design jobs, that we allow for absolutely permanent hiring that is inclusive," said Mr Tan.
Mr Tan did not commit to a target regarding how many permanent roles would be created for people with disabilities.
He said: “If we insist on working on targets, what I’m very concerned about is we end up filling numbers for the sake of filling numbers.
“And we miss out on what truly matters - and that’s treating and giving opportunities for persons with disabilities to do the jobs with pride, confidence and positivity.”
Disabled job seekers face three types of barriers to employment, said SPD’s chief executive Abhimanyau Pal: The ability to commute to work, biased employers and access to technology.
COVID-19 has made it tougher for their beneficiaries to find jobs, he said, as companies are not prepared to accommodate them while everyone is working from home.
SPD is also having to address issues such as helping clients navigate virtual interviews, as they may not have the tools or know-how to handle them, added Teo Pek Wan, a director at SPD who oversees its adult and elderly services.
But COVID-19 could bring about some benefits as well, said Mr Abhimanyau.
“(It) makes us blind to disability because we are all working from home, we are accommodating to our new norms. So this probably will open new doors for our community.”