From left: Ms Nadera, Ms Low and Mr Adrian Ho, a manager in the corporate communications department of NCSS.
PHOTO: TED CHEN
Everyone has aspirations, whether they have disabilities and mental health issues, or are free from them.
But those who are afflicted with these issues desire improvements in their level of independence, particularly in the area of employment, according to the findings from the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) Quality of Life studies conducted in 2016.
This spurred the NCSS to step up efforts to hire persons with disabilities and mental health issues in the last three years, says Ms Low Wan Ve, its director of human resource (HR) and planning and organisation development.
“Being an inclusive employer supports NCSS’ mission to provide leadership in advocating for underserved social needs and leads the way in providing opportunities for employment for vulnerable groups,” she adds.
NCSS’ efforts to integrate persons with disabilities as well as those with mental health issues into the organisation were honoured in the Special Category (Leading) in “Fair & Inclusive Employment Practices” in this year’s Singapore HR Awards.
The organisation currently employs 11 staff with disabilities and mental health issues.
Their designations vary from assistant directors to managers to executives across departments, in consideration of the vacancies available, the competencies required and the job fit.
Working alongside colleagues with disabilities and mental health issues helps instil in NCSS employees a heightened awareness of the daily challenges that such vulnerable groups face.
“We want to understand first-hand the challenges that organisations face in the journey of being an inclusive employer, so that we can help to address some of these issues,” explains Ms Low.
“This is in line with our broader sector mission for every person to be empowered to live with dignity in a caring and inclusive society,” she adds.
It was a steep learning curve for NCSS to work out best practices and guidelines initially.
These included changes to employment policies and benefits, additional emotional support and developing a culture to support inclusiveness.
It also had to manage workplace safety and access issues, as well as ways to facilitate communication for colleagues with sensory or physical disabilities.
For instance, NCSS removed the need to declare mental health issues in job application forms.
Also, more outpatient medical leave was granted for declared staff with disabilities and mental health issues, as well as claims for outpatient treatment of mental illnesses.
In addition, it implemented assistive technology such as speech-to-text software, sign language interpreter services and JAWS Screen Reader for text-to-speech interpretation.
For enhanced workplace safety, facilities such as evacuation chairs, fire alarm beacons and non-slip mats were installed.
Although supervisors were supportive of inclusive hiring, they were concerned if their team’s targets would be affected due to a poor job fit.
“We had to learn to adjust the level of accommodation and work expectations for each colleague,” says Ms Low.
Ms Nadera Abdul Aziz, 26, an assistant manager in Disability Services, was diagnosed with dysthymia, a mood disorder. She disclosed her condition in her job application and during her interview process.
“I was hired based on my own merit, which empowers me to do well at work. I am not given projects out of sympathy or pity, but for capability and growth,” says Ms Nadera, who joined NCSS in 2016 after graduating from the University at Buffalo – Singapore Institute of Management Global Education.
Since then, she has been learning the ropes on the job and she hopes to pursue a career in social work in future.
“My job gives me meaning and purpose, confidence and self-worth. It allows me to be included in contributing in ways that any young person would, both as a daughter and as a citizen,” she says.
Ms Nadera is also one of the 26 Wellness Warriors in NCSS who have attended a Mental Health First Aid course (conducted by Changi General Hospital) and volunteers to provide a listening ear to fellow colleagues.
Wellness Warriors is part of NCSS’ Employee Peer Support initiative — it enjoys a higher take-up rate than its Employee Assistance Programme for staff to contact external professional counsellors and psychiatrists.