ABLE began with a vision that the physically challenged should not be left behind in society. That singular idea led to the founding of Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations (ABLE) in 2009 which sits under Caritas Singapore, the official social and community arm of the Catholic Church in Singapore.
A decade in, ABLE has empowered many with physical disabilities to live dignified, productive and independent lives through their signature Return-to-Work (RTW) programme.
“We customise our Return-To-Work programme based on the needs of each client, who may have acquired a disability resulting from conditions such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury,” said ABLE’s Rehabilitation Programme Manager, Carmen Lok.
Always looking to support efforts that enable those with disabilities, it was natural for Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF) to support ABLE’s initiatives through a partnership with SG Enable. MEF supports some of ABLE’s employment support services, allowing the charity to help people with acquired disabilities return to work.
“The partnership is very important to us especially in our efforts to help those with disabilities who come from low-income backgrounds,” said Ms Lok.
ABLE’s work may be targeted specifically at persons with disabilities, but for those it helps, ABLE is central to their sense of worth and well-being. Manfred Seah, 59, would certainly testify to this. Eight years ago, Mr Seah’s world fell apart because of a single, though deadly, bout of fever.
“I was on a business to trip to the US when I suddenly came down with a fever. I carried on with my activities as usual but after I returned to Singapore five days later, I had to be sent to the ICU. I was in a coma for one and a half months due to a viral infection,” recalled Mr Seah.
The virus attacked Mr Seah’s spinal cord and brain. By the time he woke up, Mr Seah could no longer walk and his left eye was affected. For a year, he was bed-ridden and had to undergo physiotherapy at home.
“After a while, I realised I couldn’t carry on like that. So, St Andrew’s Community Hospital, where I was undergoing physiotherapy, linked me up with ABLE in 2017.”
ABLE became integral to Mr Seah’s efforts to return to the workforce.
Mr Seah entered ABLE’s multi-disciplinary Rehabilitation and Training programme that includes rehabilitation, employment support, training and social work services. He started off with physiotherapy to improve his activities of daily living and increase his community mobility. Through employment support sessions, he explored potential job sectors, discovered what he wanted in his career and identified his training needs to achieve his career goal.
“I used to be the head of my company’s IT department, so I wanted to go back into something IT-related,” said Mr Seah.
ABLE’s Employment Support Specialist provided vocational counselling and helped him match his skills to available jobs and re-design his skill sets to increase his employability. When he was ready to go on a job hunt, ABLE was on hand to assist Mr Seah in the creation of a new resume and to approach employers.
“We have been fortunate enough to work with many inclusive employers willing to employ those with disabilities and give them a new lease of life. A common misconception employers have is that they would need to invest a huge amount of resources into accommodating employees with disabilities. However, this is often not the case. For example, it may be as simple as customizing the employee’s job tasks based on their strengths and abilities,” said Ms Lok.
Persons with disabilities face a variety of challenges when they seek employment. For example, some companies do not have group insurance that can cover the new hires with disabilities because of their pre-existing medical conditions. Others, like one employer who initially wanted to hire Mr Seah, do not have wheelchair-friendly offices.
“They wanted to hire me to teach English to their employees but their office didn’t have an elevator,” said Mr Seah.
In May 2018, a year after getting assistance from ABLE, he managed to secure a job as an IT system Advisor in an SME.
ABLE’s support does not end when its clients become employed.
“We offer post-employment support to help them transition back into the workforce,” said Ms Lok.
ABLE’s Employment Support Specialist visited Mr Seah’s workplace to better understand his work environment and provide accommodations advisory to Mr Seah’s employer if needed.
“This is so the newly employed can excel at their jobs,” said Ms Lok.
Life may not always be fair, but everyone deserves a fair chance. That is why ABLE strives to give everyone a success story like Mr Seah’s.