Disability inclusion is a viable business model. Just ask Firmenich, the world’s largest privately-owned perfume and taste company, whose sensory panellists with visual impairment play a crucial role in bringing the sensorial expertise in the company to the next level.
“Our visually impaired panellists’ contributions play an important role in the development of winning flavours and fragrances at Firmenich. They contribute equally to the business and it is not a corporate social responsibility agenda but one of an inclusive business model,” said Mr Rajan Arul, General Manager of Firmenich Singapore.
Firmenich looked into various ways to redesign jobs for their sensory panellists. Job redesign helps to review job responsibilities and work environments, simplify processes, and develop solutions that improve performance and safety for persons with disabilities.
While organisations may be wondering how to provide reasonable accommodations, understanding the work process alongside some creativity can enable persons with disabilities to perform their tasks. Examples include using “goofy eyes” as a tactile marker (details below) for the sensory panellists or having ramps and spacious lift lobbies for persons with disabilities to get around. Thinking out of the box to accommodate employees with disabilities has led Firmenich to digitalisation efforts that result in greater productivity and benefit the whole organisation.
While job redesign may vary in organisations, you can learn more with SG Enable’s Job Redesign Guide here.
Firmenich partnered with the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) to develop training and employment opportunities. Building organisational capabilities by attending SG Enable’s High Impact Retention & Employment (HIRE) workshop series and learning how other organisations have enabled disability-inclusive hiring, they learnt to redesign processes by experimentation, careful planning and incorporating the needs of their sensory panellists. Firmenich was conferred the Innovation Award at the 5th Enabling Employers Awards in 2019, where it was recognised for its effective use of assistive devices to support its employees with visual impairment, who are hired as sensory panellists.
Bernard Chew was devastated after losing his vision in 2017, but “felt alive” after landing a job at Firmenich as a sensory panellist.
Preparation is Key
Firmenich trained the sensory panellists for about 16 weeks to build their capabilities. Sighted sensory panellists undergo the same training, too.
A committee was also set up to assist with the on-boarding of the sensory panellists. Ms Seah Siau Choon, the Sensory Manager who led the committee, shared, “We considered everything from the proximity of transport options, accessibility and safety fixtures of the building, to physical fittings within the workspace and peer support, to accommodate visually impaired employees.”
Redesigning Work Processes
A job redesign process was introduced to ensure sensory panellists perform well in their job.
The committee first determined the desired outcomes before identifying job areas where redesign was needed. They also anticipated the challenges they may face and set up standard operating procedures (SOPs). These SOPs were regularly reviewed to ensure the agility of the redesign process.
Transforming with Technology
One of the key areas that has been implemented is the transformation of the data collection mechanism, a system that sensory panellists use to input their data on the fragrances.
(Photo credit: Firmenich Asia Pte Ltd)
An early prototype of an assistive device used in describing fragrances. Sensory panellists had to manually write the descriptions.
Over the years, these data collection mechanisms have evolved from devices that required manual input to the current Interactive Research Intelligent System (IRIS), a digital application developed by Firmenich.
(Photo credit: Firmenich Asia Pte Ltd)
Evolution of the assistive devices used in evaluating fragrances. Early designs saw Braille, “goofy eyes” and grooves as tactile markers to guide the sensory panellists with visual impairment. They currently use IRIS, a digital application that allows all panellists to enter ratings independently on a tablet.
This means that the process of describing and evaluating fragrances has also been digitalised. In the past, the taskforce and fragrance scientists had to manually capture the readings between all sensory panellists. Now, everyone, including the visually impaired panellists, are able to do so independently.
Shawn Iskandar used to be a make-up artist before being diagnosed with photoreceptor dysfunction, which does not allow him to see in bright light. He now works as a sensory panellist at Firmenich, which gives him a steady source of income, and as a freelance make-up artist.
With digitalisation, not only can data be captured in real-time and shared with offices worldwide, panellists can also work from home. Firmenich’s dedication to an inclusive business model continues to drive job redesign solutions for work accessibility; with the COVID-19 pandemic, the work-from-home routine implemented by Firmenich saw continuity in its sensory work by delivering fragrances to the sensory panellists’ doorstep.
Using technology, embracing innovation and adapting to changes have enhanced the working experience of the visually impair sensory panellists, placing them on the same learning pace as their sighted counterparts. This empowerment has increased their independence and confidence, allowing them to have more engaging discussions as an all-inclusive group.
A Journey of Growth
What started as a collaboration with SAVH on employment opportunities for persons with visual impairment has since grown to improving workplace accessibility and developing training capabilities that benefit all sensory panellists. We hope more employers can come on-board the inclusive hiring journey that not only enables the lives of persons with disabilities, but also takes your organisation through a rewarding workplace transformation.
Read more about the types of assistive technology devices and software. To find out how you can tap on the Job Redesign Grant to provide a suitable work-from-home set-up for your employees with disabilities, speak to SG Enable today.