Employers should focus on abilities, not disabilities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 11:00am

The Nesbitt Centre focuses on promoting abilities rather than disabilities, something which the disabled have found heartening. The centre, which offers English speaking educational programmes, works with sufferers of Down's syndrome and autism, and the learning disabled.

It helps to find its students work opportunities such as packing greeting cards, filing, and mailing. Some are being trained to work as baristas.

Kyaw Saing, 38, is one beneficiary who, before falling ill last year, had worked at the law firm Linklaters.

Arriving early in the morning and working until past noon on Tuesdays in his pressed shirt and khakis, the 38-year-old Down's syndrome sufferer stamped envelopes and prepared files and documents with the help of his job coach, Edward Bunker.

"He loves it. He can't really tell you exactly how he's feeling, but you see the difference when he's working," says his mother, Mrs Saing. "Even though Kyaw doesn't say I'm proud or I'm happy, you can feel it. You can see that when he has something to do, he's happy."

The Saing family moved to Hong Kong from Myanmar in the late 1970s for Kyaw's education. Employer attitudes towards hiring the disabled have changed since then, but it is still not easy to find work placements or support for the disabled in the city, says Bunker.

"Everybody's busy doing their own work, so you're put to one side." There is a real willingness by companies to hire the disabled, says Bunker, but they don't always know what that entails.

That's something that Walter Tsui Yu-hang knows all about. "I don't think they understood my capabilities," says Tsui of a former employer. "They had me write short summaries of videos. But I'm pretty much blind."

He now works at Gammon Construction's human resources department, where he manages benefits and insurance claims and does other administrative duties.

"He's more mature than guys his age," says Sharon Tam, his supervisor. Tam says accommodating Tsui was no trouble. The company installed the software he needed and briefed his colleagues before his first day.

"If he needs help we'll give it to him, just as we would with any other colleague. When we realised he was great on the phone, we gave all the phone work to him," says Tam.