Finding ‘gold’ in disabled workers

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(From left) Rose Rashidi, outreach officer Wong Lai Cheng, and communication and corporate affairs head Lina Othman from Selangor Dredging Bhd. Rose is one of three disabled employees at SDB and says a positive attitude plays an important part in landing a job.(From left) Rose Rashidi, outreach officer Wong Lai Cheng, and communication and corporate affairs head Lina Othman from Selangor Dredging Bhd. Rose is one of three disabled employees at SDB and says a positive attitude plays an important part in landing a job.(From left) Rose Rashidi, outreach officer Wong Lai Cheng, and communication and corporate affairs head Lina Othman from Selangor Dredging Bhd. Rose is one of three disabled employees at SDB and says a positive attitude plays an important part in landing a job.

In the of middle Jalan Ampang, smack bang in Kuala Lumpur’s golden triangle, one company is quietly spearheading a social experiment. Not many people would notice that in a corner of the Selangor Dredging Bhd (SDB) building (or interconnected buildings, each named after the direction it faces), a group of young people are running a juice van or washing cars.

These youngsters – clad in bright green T-shirts and manning a cart – greet their customers, count the change and deliver juices bursting with goodness to nearby offices. So what’s the big deal? After all, many youth work in fast-food joints and malls.

But if customers make just that little bit of effort, they would notice that the youngsters manning the One-Two-Juice cart are a little different – in a good way. They are young people with learning disabilities and sure, they might take an extra 20 seconds to process an order but here they are, being part of the workforce and proving that a disability should not hamper one’s ability to be a productive member of society.

One-Two-Juice and One-Two-Wash are the brainchild of SDB managing director Teh Lip Kim, who some time in 2011, floated the idea that the property developer could pursue a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme with a difference. Instead of taking the easy way out of donating money and maybe time to charitable causes, Lip Kim’s idea was to empower the disabled to earn a living.

What started out as an ‘experiment’, the juice stall and car wash are now full-fledged businesses (One-Two-Wash will go into full gear in March) but backed by a number of SDB employees whose job is to see that these youngsters succeed.

Wong Lai Cheng is one such individual. She’s an outreach officer at SDB and part of the corporate communications team.

“We want to reach out to the community around us,” she says about the programme.

The One-Two-Juice cart in the Selangor Dredging Bhd building in Jalan Ampang. Youth with learning disabilities run the business, from manning the cash register to cutting fruits for smoothies.The One-Two-Juice cart in the Selangor Dredging Bhd building in Jalan Ampang. Youth with learning disabilities run the business, from manning the cash register to cutting fruits for smoothies.The One-Two-Juice cart in the Selangor Dredging Bhd building in Jalan Ampang. Youth with learning disabilities run the business, from manning the cash register to cutting fruits for smoothies.

Children – or youth – under care are referred to Lai Cheng and it is her job to ‘talent spot’ and assess those who can fit into a challenging working environment. Many of those with learning disabilities find interacting with people difficult.

Then there are employees like Rose Rashidi, who joined SDB last March. Born without a tibia in the left leg, Rose uses a crutch and is classified as ‘OKU’ (from the Malay acronym for the disabled). A bubbly optimistic person, Rose mans the front desk and enjoys interacting with customers – even the ‘difficult’ ones, answering calls and generally being the public face of SBD.

How Rose landed at SDB owes much to her determination. The discrimination she faced can be subtle. Rose was born without a limb, but many treat her as though her brains are missing as well.

“I was supposed to be doing home-based marketing and had even invested in Unifi but it didn’t work out,” says Rose.

Feeling depressed, Rose Googled ‘jobs for disabled’ and praying to God, she came across listings in Beautiful Gates – an organisation supporting people with physical disabilities which has a portal touted as the ‘JobStreet for OKU’ – which listed an admin job at SDB among others.

Lina Othman, corporate communication head at SDB, says: “Rose is not a kesian (charity) case… she got the job because of her ability.”

After Rose joined, Lai Cheng stepped in, checking to see if Rose was settling into the office culture, meeting the head of department to iron out any issues and that Rose was happy and secure at work.

For Rose, the job has been a God-sent. ”When people give you a chance you must appreciate it,” she says by way of advice to the disabled who might baulk at the chance of working in a ‘normal’ office.

“Look at your skills. Develop what you have and never give up… you have to convince others that you can do it,” Rose adds.

Lai Cheng’s advice to companies interested to hire the disabled as part of their diversification or CSR programme is to accept the fact that there will be a steep learning curve.

“There will be teething problems and you must be open-minded,” she says.

Make sure the disabled person has a friend in the office to help him or her settle in. Offer support and make sure the office is adaptable. For instance, if a new worker is struggling with mundane tasks, it will frustrate him no end. Find solutions, such as making a template for someone to staple papers. Use colour codes to simplify tasks. Ensure a disabled person does not become a scapegoat. Encourage those with a little bit more ability by increasing their responsibilities.

These small steps will ensure that any company taking on a social experiment will be rewarded with a happy employee – disabled or not.

 

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