Hiring people with disabilities is less daunting than we think
Fern Ngai says that, often, employing people with disabilities requires very little adjustment
York Chow Yat-ngok's appointment as the new head of the Equal Opportunities Commission should be a positive step for people with disabilities since he has a wealth of experience serving voluntary organisations that promote their rights.
This, together with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's proclamation in his policy address that people can only be truly integrated into their community through employment, should bode well in terms of enabling people with disabilities to get equal access to employment.
In theory, they have had this right since Hong Kong became a signatory to the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
But the reality is different. Many employers are daunted by the prospect of hiring people with disabilities. They are nervous about whether these potential employees can fulfil the requirements of the job, how they will interact with other employees, and what changes may be needed to the physical environment. In addition, people with disabilities often lack confidence to apply for jobs.
Pragmatic initiatives are therefore needed to educate both employers and potential employees with disabilities. That is why Community Business has initiated "Open to You", Hong Kong's first inclusive recruitment event that takes place today, to facilitate direct introductions between blue chip companies and a talent pool of university students with disabilities.
At a workshop for companies, one participant recounted how colleagues were concerned about hiring a man who uses a wheelchair, in case he found it difficult to get around. But she explained that, as he had represented Hong Kong in the Paralympics, this was unlikely to be a problem. She was right.
Another explained that his company spent so long discussing what they should be doing that finally they decided to just jump in and figure it out as they went along. This meant, for example, putting up braille stickers in the lifts and buying a tablet with software that converts voice to text so a hearing-impaired employee could follow meetings more easily. None of these things was difficult or expensive and the individuals employed have been a success.
These stories should show companies that, often, only minor changes are required. "Reasonable adjustments" is the term coined to describe what is expected from employment and educational institutions to enable equality of access for people with disabilities, and often they really are very reasonable and unexpectedly small, with high rewards.
If the government can get behind this message, Hong Kong can make great strides in this area.
Fern Ngai is CEO of Community Business