The NTUC FairPrice supermarket in the Enabling Village was one of the first to feature assistive devices as automated basket-lifting systems (for lifting heavy loads onto the cashier’s conveyor), wheelchair-friendly trolleys, and call buttons in every aisle for shoppers to use when they need assistance. There’s also plenty of unobvious features: large print labels, wide checkout lanes for wheelchairs and motorised vehicles, and a vinyl floor to prevent slipping.

Photo of an assistance call button and a magnifying glass in a shopping aisle. Taken at the NTUC Fairprice supermarket located at the Enabling Village.

An assistance call button and a magnifying glass in a shopping aisle: You may have seen these at other NTUC Fairprice supermarkets too.

It’s not just the hardware that earned the supermarket the moniker of the ‘Enabled Store’. The supermarket serves many senior residents of the Lengkok Bahru community, as well as people with disabilities who visit the village for work, training or disability-specific services. It also hires workers with special needs.

We speak to Wee Qi Yao, 26, who has autism and his colleague, Ching Meei Lee, 39, who share what makes working at the Enabled Store so different.

What does your job scope here include?

QY: I mainly replenish stocks, including groceries, frozen and fresh goods. On a typical day, I report at 7am and make sure the shelves are well-stocked before the store opens at 8am. When the store opens, we still replenish as per normal but mostly on the grocery side.

Photo of Qi Yao stacking packets of rice at the NTUC Fairprice supermarket outlet at the Enabling Village. Qi Yao has autism, and works and trains at the supermarket.

Qi Yao, 26, stacks packets of rice in the grains section of the supermarket.

ML: The Enabled Store is different from larger branches because we don’t just perform our designated job. We need to know how to do everything. For instance, I’m a cashier, but I replenish stocks and assist and interact with customers as well. Our job scope is fluid in that sense. We take the initiative and offer our help wherever it is needed.

How is it like working here?

QY: Working here is manageable and can be quite relaxing at times, depending on how much stock is coming in. I also have more time to interact with my colleagues during periods where it isn’t too busy.

Photo of Meei Lee, 39, operating a cashier station at the supermarket.

Meei Lee, 39, operating a cashier station at the supermarket.

ML: This store is smaller than most other FairPrice outlets, so there is more opportunity for interaction. It also has more elderly people and children from the special needs community so you need to be patient and friendly. We are all like friends here, be it with colleagues or customers. When customers come, we’ll always exchange a line or two to ask how each other is doing. We have more time to get to know each other better because I’m not always tapping away at the cashier. I like this kind of working spirit and atmosphere of togetherness much more.

What is your biggest takeaway from working here?

QY: Work has helped me to learn how to interact with more people and talk to different people and teaches me to adapt to situations better. My main challenge is adjusting to changes in schedules. Because of my training stint in another FairPrice outlet, I’m very familiar with the frozen and dairy sections, but I’m still trying to familiarise myself with the other sections.

Photo of Qi Yao and Meei Lee working together to restock shelves at the supermarket

Qi Yao and Meei Lee work together to restock the shelves

What gives you greatest satisfaction?

QY: Managing the frozen and dairy sections, because sometimes handling groceries can get tiring. I also enjoy helping people. Some customers with disabilities will ask me to help them pick out fruits and I like being able to help. I hope to continue working for as long as I can. Work is important to me. It comes after my family.

Photo of a sign, "Trolley for Special Needs", attached to a column of special shopping trolleys designed to be attached to wheelchairs

A column of shopping trolleys designed for wheelchair users

What is your view of inclusion in the workplace?

ML: For me, interacting with people from the special needs community comes naturally and I don’t treat them any differently from others. Honestly, I think it’s much more difficult to manage my own children (laughs). I’ve worked with Qi Yao and he’s very able and can follow instructions well. We just treat him the same way we would treat anyone else and joke around with him. He may get a little anxious if he is unable to manage a certain task but we’ll just give him some personal space and let him calm down. I’ve worked with other special needs staff before and they’re intelligent and have great memory. They know what they want, so we’ll just do our best to help them fit in.