Are Singaporean companies ready to hire people with disabilities? It seems, they now are.
Reflecting this trend are three food delivery companies that employ persons with disabilities not just as office clerks or desk assistants but also as food delivery crew.
To date, Foodpanda employs roughly 60 riders with disabilities (approximately 1% of its entire workforce), while GrabFood provides work for 20 riders with physical disabilities from its 13,000 labour force. Deliveroo, which has 6,000 riders in total, does not have available information on riders’ disabilities but it does enlist people with disabilities as part of its team.
While these workers are still in the minority, there are clear indications that their number is rising.
Based on data from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (as of November 2018), the prevalence rate of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in Singapore is as follows:
|POPULATION GROUP||APPROXIMATE PREVALENCE RATE|
|Student population||2.1% of student population|
|18–49 years||3.4% of resident population|
|50 years and above||13.3% of resident population|
From these numbers, it was estimated that over 8,600 persons with disabilities were employed in the private and public sector in 2017, an increase of nearly 9% from the figure in 2015.
As organisations recognise the gains of promoting a diverse workplace, more and more of them are putting in place processes and policies that could attract a wide range of different talents, including those with disabilities, following the wisdom that employees are likely to walk the extra mile when they feel comfortable in their working environment.
According to Ku Geok Boon, chief executive officer of SG Enable, “Persons with disabilities are a valuable talent source. When companies focus on their abilities, persons with disabilities can bring needed skills and competencies, and there could be increased productivity and lower turnover as a result.” She further said that “Many companies also see that as employees interact with colleagues with disabilities, they develop greater empathy and have a deeper appreciation of how everyone can contribute to the organisation’s success.”
Challenges amid efforts at inclusion
The creation and establishment of the Open Door Programme (ODP) by the government is a laudable initiative towards assimilating people with special needs which provides them the means to earn decent income while getting a chance to live a normal life in spite of their impairments.
However, there are still challenges, most especially, in the food delivery sector.
According to executive director Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills of the Disabled People’s Association (DPA), there is an increase in the number of people with disabilities working in the food delivery business and she attributes the popularity of food delivery jobs to the flexible working arrangements of these companies.
Despite the benefits of having a flexible schedule for people with disabilities though, Dr Medjeral-Mills noted some issues for these workers with disabilities.
As a food delivery rider who has cerebral palsy, Ms. Juni Syafiqa Jumat, has her share of negative experiences with customers.
Recalling an incident taking place 10 months ago, while she was working with Deliveroo, a customer refused to pick up his food as she had taken longer than his lunch hour to deliver it.
“My delivery was from Suntec City to Clarke Quay. So I must take MRT. By the time I reached the office, (I was late for) almost half an hour. So they said their lunch time has finished,” she said.
She confided that if she gets orders where she has to travel far, she will decide not to take it as she cannot travel for long hours due to the limited battery life in her wheelchair.
Another PWD shared the same experience. “Customers want me to go fast to send the food to them, or sometimes when (it rains), there will be delays,” said Foodpanda delivery rider Benjamin Lee, who lost his left leg six years ago.
He added that sometimes when he is late, “customers will keep calling,” even if he is unable to pick the phone up as he is riding.
Deliveroo rider Saire Adnan, who is an amputee, talked about a similar experience. “Sometimes, when I (deliver) food, the customer will ask me to come faster. (When I say I have) a disability, sometimes the customer is okay, sometimes the customer is not okay,” he said. He also said that although many customers show compassion once they know that he is physically disabled, others would cancel the order if made to wait too long.
Compassion mixed with pragmatism
Local charity SPD hopes that employers would be more understanding towards riders with disabilities.
For this, both Foodpanda and GrabFood have dedicated channels for riders with disabilities to reach out if they need help. This includes Telegram chats, phone hotlines, in-app help centres, and a dedicated rider website.
All three companies said that an applicant’s disability was never a factor in their decision of whether or not they would partner up with an aspiring rider.
For Deliveroo, as long as the applicant has the appropriate licence for his/her vehicle, and possesses a working smartphone, they would be open to working with that person. Similarly, GrabFood said that they do not see any significant difference in service quality standards between those GrabFood riders without disability from those who have physical or intellectual challenges.
A spokesperson said that GrabFood would hire all rider-applicants as long as they pass the mandatory training process, which is usually done online.
Ultimately, for these workers, it is the chance to work that is the most empowering.
As one PWD rider said, “We are given equal opportunities to earn our own living, just like any other delivery-partner … I am thankful for a job that allows me to earn money while doing something that I like.” /TISG
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