Making employment sustainable for disabled people
May 10, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan
EMPLOYERS usually shy away from hiring disabled people, especially those with psychosocial and learning disabilities, and traumatic brain injury. This is due to the prejudice, stereotypes and social stigma attached to those conditions. The prevalent mindset is that they are incapable to perform as expected of their duties and doubts over the state of their mental well-being.
They are traditionally limited to working in sheltered workshops where they are segregated from the mainstream workforce and from society. In reality, they have the potential to work in the open and competitive job market with reasonable accommodation and support.
Supported employment was developed in the United States in the 1980s as a means for disabled people to get paid employment with salaries and benefits equal to that of co-workers in similar positions. This is accomplished with job coaches, who provide support not only to disabled workers but also to the employers and co-workers to ensure the employment is sustainable.
Job coaches are not merely instructors. They are trained to analyse and work out solutions in a structured process to ensure the workers are able to fulfil their roles accordingly. The responsibilities of job coaches include assessing the aptitudes and preferences of workers and the work environment, and negotiate with the employers to make necessary changes in accommodating the workers.
Job coaches need to be familiar with the duties assigned to disabled workers. This is to enable them to break the tasks into small systematic steps that are easy to understand and carry out. They also facilitate the co-workers in supporting the disabled worker as job coaches will gradually reduce their support in a phase known as fading. Nevertheless, job coaches will still do periodic follow-ups to assess the situation and resolve any issue that may arise after that.
At a two-day Asia Pacific Supported Employment and Job Coach Seminar held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week, more than 200 representatives from 17 countries from around the region got together to share and learn from each other’s experience.
Professor Hiroshi Ogawa gave the keynote address at the seminar where he outlined the development of supported employment in Japan. He is the founding director of Job Coach Network Japan and teaches at Otsuma Women’s University. He conducted the first Job Coach Training course in Malaysia in 2007.
“I remember these two men, they have autism,” he shared a story of his first job coach practice 17 years ago. “Under job coach support, they really worked hard in a small industry where it was busy and noisy, and a terrible environment for people with autism. And we succeeded. They are the pioneer of Japanese supported employment.”
“The first job coach training was held in 1998. At that time there were just 20 participants. Although the numbers were so small, most of them were highly motivated. Many job coaches graduated from this training and become good leaders of Japanese Job Coach Network.”
He told the participants of the seminar that their first step may be small, just like how it began in Japan, but there is great potential to advance the importance and benefits of job coach and supported employment.
Ogawa also spoke in detail about the Employment Promotion Law in Japan. It was enacted in 1960 and gradually revised to include a quota and levy system. Since 2013, employers must meet the employment quota of disabled people with physical, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. Private companies have a 2 per cent quota and government bodies a 2.3 per cent quota.
Employers with more than 201 employees that do not meet the quota will have to pay a levy of 50,000 yen (RM1,500) per month for each shortfall of one person. This levy is then used for vocational rehabilitation including the provision of job coach services.
According to Nik Omar Nik Ab Rahman, Department for the Development of Persons with Disabilities director, a total of 1,350 participants from private companies, government agencies and NGOs from all over the country have attended job coach training courses. Most importantly, 373 disabled persons have become employed utilising the Job Coach Service Programme since 2012.
He further added that Job Coach Network Malaysia (JCNM) was formed in 2008 by the Welfare Department to facilitate information sharing and partnership among job coach trainers with key stakeholders to promote sustainable employment for disabled people. The network has 33 trainers comprising officers from government agencies, Social Security Organisation, NGOs and private sector.
Companies that have used Job Coach Service Programme or have their own in-house job coaches to employ disabled people include GCH Retails (which operates Giant hypermarkets, Cold Storage and Guardian), KFC, Mydin, Intercontinental Hotel Kuala Lumpur and Aeon.
We are fortunate to be able to learn and adapt the model of supported employment and job coach programme used in Japan which is already well developed and established. It is time for us to take this initiative one step further by emulating the legislation that promotes the employment of disabled people through the imposition of quotas and levy.
It is without a doubt that with reasonable accommodation and support, disabled people with complex disabilities too can work in open employment. Being able to earn a salary can greatly improve their dignity and independence. This in turn will lead to them becoming active participants in society.
More information on job coach can be found at www.jobcoachmalaysia.com.