Last July, the 2017 Enabling Employers Award celebrated the achievements of over 70 firms and individuals in Singapore that supports employees with disabilities at the workplace. For the first time, the biennial event by SG Enable also recognised outstanding employees with disabilities for their contribution to and advocacy of inclusion at their companies.

We spoke to Ms Yuki Neoh,  who received the Exemplary Employees Award, and Mr Steven Koh, who received the Enabling Buddies Award, to find out their thoughts at winning the awards. The Exemplary Employees Award is given to individuals who set an example in their organisations to spread the message of inclusiveness in their workplaces, while the Enabling Buddies recognises co-workers or direct supervisors who have done well in supporting employees with disabilities at their workplaces.

Enabling Village: Congratulations! What are your thoughts on being a recipient at this year’s Enabling Employers Award?

Yuki: My colleagues actually nominated me in secret for 4th Enabling Employers Award. They meant to surprise me on that day since they received the results. But they could no longer hide it from me as they had to ask for my permission to be filmed. It was really a pleasant surprise for me. Still, I would never thought I would be one of the 4 recipients of the ‘Exemplary Employees’ Award, I am very proud.

Steven: When our People Organization Group informed me, I was very very surprised at receiving the award. In fact, I am still quite surprised and not sure what to make out of it.

EV: What does this award mean to you?

Yuki: This award means very much to me as my efforts and time I have spent for the past 2 years are appreciated and recognised by my colleagues. Even if I didn’t receive an award, I am still grateful for being nominated as it shows they recognise my hard work and effort. I am also very thankful to be given with the opportunity and empowerment to able to contribute and support my colleagues and communities around me.

It also reminds me of my contribution for my company and the society as a leader, so it encourages me to keep it going as long as it is within my means.

Steven: I appreciate the recognition and more importantly, the opportunity to inspire more employers and workplaces be more inclusive.

EV: What do you think is the greatest misconception about a person with disability in the workforce?

Yuki: I think the misconception among persons with disability is that they are not able to contribute as much as those without disability to their workforce thus, which makes their job search more difficult. I am very sure that everyone has their own unique strengths to contribute. They can shine [at] work if [their] disability can be overlooked, possibly have workplace adjustments, and get employers to focus on their abilities.

With this misconception, this could be one of the reasons why some people may not embrace their disability wholly so they may choose to hide their disability from the employers during the interview in case they might not want to hire.

Steven: It is very superficial to judge and dismiss their ability to contribute to our workforce because of their disabilities. After all, everyone has his/her strengths and weaknesses.

In GovTech, when we work in a high-performing team, we leverage each other’s strengths to amplify team’s effectiveness and compensate own weaknesses. Disabilities or weaknesses, a high-performing team works the same way.

EV: Yuki, in your 2 years working at Barclays, what will you say is the most memorable experience for you?

Yuki: I think I am going to be fussy as I can’t pick one of the most memorable experiences I have! All those good times I have spent working, supporting and interacting with my colleagues are the memorable experiences for me. It’s something I am very grateful for having my colleagues who overlook my disability and look at my abilities instead.

EV: Can you name a few instances where you supported the education in helping the company understand more about hearing impairment and persons with disabilities?

Photo of Ms Yuki Neoh receiving the Exemplary Employee Award at the 2017 Enabling Employers Award ceremony

Ms Yuki Neoh receives her Exemplary Employee Award at the 2017 Enabling Employers Award ceremony

Yuki: I was given with opportunity to teach my team with a few basic signing words as to facilitate the communication in between us. Eventually, other colleagues from different departments were interested to learn sign language so they asked me to teach them as well. Throughout my interactions with colleagues, I shared some simple Deaf culture/etiquette and my experiences as being a Deaf person to allow them to understand better.

As I am working with Reach Disability network in Barclays, we have been supporting different communities by arranging the internal and external events for colleagues to either learn or interact with. One of the instances, we invited SG Enable presenters to share about disability etiquette which was eye-opening for colleagues.

EV: Steven, can you briefly tell us how you met Lim Zui Young, and eventually hired him as a full-time employee at GovTech?

Steven: SG Enable recommended him for a software engineer internship with us. We sent Zui Young the usual software engineer technical assessment and he passed it with flying colours. He graduated a year later and we contacted him to check out his interest. The rest is history. [Editor: We featured him on our blog before.]

EV: Why was it important for you to see Zui Young through this journey in the workforce?

Steven: First of all, Zui Young is an awesome engineer in our team. Young is technically strong and has great relationships with our colleagues. Our team is stronger with him and we are very glad to have him!

EV: What advice would you give to other organisations and businesses to encourage them to hire persons with disabilities?

Yuki: Regardless of their size, I hope they can change their mindset in a positive way and embrace the differences and disabilities they have. Do give opportunity to persons with disabilities to pick up the rope slowly and they will shine their strengths one day. This requires organisations and businesses to work closely with persons with disabilities and find the ways or solutions that encounter the challenges/difficulties they face i.e. workplace adjustment and their well-being.

Although this may sometimes require extra effort, time and cost, often the commercial benefits can outweigh those. Empowering persons with disabilities to learn and live more independently is beneficial to our economy as well. Who knows one day, we will get to see a new perspective from persons with disabilities which can be beneficial to their business/organisation.

Steven: If your organisation believes in empowering people and has a strong culture to focus on people’s strength, your organisation is more than ready to hire people with disabilities.

It’s about bringing out the best in them and helping them reach their human potential. Just like we do for other fellow human beings.

This is a decision that engenders a more progressive culture.

[Top: Photo of Mr Steven Koh (left) and Mr Lim Zui Young, who has low vision, at GovTech]