Before joining the workforce, Alister Ong, who has a disability, was not confident of finding a job.
“Ten years ago, my mindset was that the big corporates are only focused on making profits. They’re driven towards what they want to achieve and are not that open to hiring people with disabilities,” said Alister, 24, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorised wheelchair.
He was speaking at a recent sharing session, to about 25 people who provide job coaching, placement and support services to persons with disabilities.
A new mindset about companies’ inclusiveness
But his mindset changed after his first foray into the working world, during an internship with Deutsche Bank, where he had job placement help from SG Enable. He had taken part in the internship after his first year as an economics undergraduate at the Singapore Management University, as part of SG Enable’s IHL Internship Programme. The programme is for students who have disabilities and study in institutes of higher learning.
“I realised that there are people who advocate for inclusiveness and diversity. It took me time to build confidence, and slowly, I got used to working with people, the corporate culture and working with my employers,” he said,
After his time at Deutsche Bank, he went on to have internship stints at consulting firm Accenture and the Ministry of National Development, before starting his first job at Singtel in October 2017. He works in its Group Sustainability department, and his role includes looking at how Singtel’s retail stores can be made more accessible to persons with disabilities, and benchmarking the company’s sustainability efforts.
The job search
When looking for a job after graduation, Alister admitted that he was unsure of which companies would be willing to hire persons with disabilities. But through his internship stints, he knew of a network of such companies, the SBNoD, also known as the Singapore Business Network on DisAbility. SG Enable works closely with the network, whose members include Deutsche Bank and Singtel.
He sent resumes to several companies, mostly those in the SBNoD. One tip he had for jobseekers with physical disabilities: instead of stating his disability on his resume, he asked companies if their workplaces are wheelchair-accessible after being asked to go for job interviews.
“I think that point is a good time to disclose my disability. I don’t want to go to the place if it’s not accessible; as that means the office space is most likely not accessible. I also don’t want employers to get a shock and they may not be open to hiring persons with disabilities then,” he said. “I want to at least get an interview slot, based on my own experience and capabilities.”
Settling in at work
Singtel also made some workplace accommodations to improve accessibility in the office.
For instance, a door on Alister’s office level was changed to an auto door that swings out automatically without him having to pull or push it open. Instead of tapping his staff pass on a card reader which is too high for him to reach it, Singtel also gave him a special staff pass that is attached to his wheelchair and can be detected by a sensor from a short distance.
Alister’s comments on the importance of open communication at work also led to some laughs and nods in agreement from the audience at the sharing session.
“When I first stepped into Singtel, my boss and my department – we sat down to openly discuss what happened to me, what my condition is, what sort of help I need and what I don’t need, so they know when to step in and when not to. We don’t want a situation where people over-help or under-help.”
He encouraged people with disabilities to be open about their conditions: “I realise that when I share, people understand better and they know how to help me better. The benefits of sharing outweigh the benefits of not sharing.”
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