Pilot Project to Help Bridge the Digital Divide and Create Job Opportunities for the Disabled

Singapore, 14 October 2002 – Twenty-eight year old Gary Woon can now look forward to being able to find employment. A tetraplegic, Gary has been unemployed for 7 years after a traffic accident. Owing to the mobility problem sustained in the accident, he was not able to use the public transport or afford expensive taxi rides to travel to the workplace. Today, Gary will be able to work in the virtual environment after completing a web design course with The Society for the Physically Disabled.

In the present age of IT advancement, it is possible for physically disabled people to work in a virtual environment without having to face the challenges of unfriendly physical environment and public transport system. Today, the IT sector creates many jobs and in many cases the work can be done from any location with the right equipment. This creates employment opportunities never known before for people with disabilities. SPD is working on a pilot project to build a web design team consisting of people with physical disabilities to enable them to work in the virtual environment.

Gary says, “I can now look forward to finding jobs without the worry of traveling to the workplace. It not only saves me the transport cost but more importantly, it means I could be gainfully employed just like any other person.”

The course is currently ongoing and is conducted by a Macromedia’s approved training centre. There are five trainees in the group – four have tetraplegia and are members of the Tetraplegic Work Group, and one has spinal muscular atrophy. The trainees were selected based on their education level and their familiarity with the Internet. As the main objective of the project is to help those who cannot find open employment, only those who have difficulties securing open employment and who are IT savvy were selected for the pilot project.

Upon completion of the course, the trainees are expected to attend a three-month on-the-job apprenticeship where they will work on web design-related jobs secured for them by SPD. The on-the job apprenticeship will provide a good training ground in a sheltered environment to prepare the team for competitive paying web designing work. The ultimate objective is to train and develop them to do web design job from their homes or in a sheltered environment at SPD as an employment. They should then be able to work independently and compete on the same level with able-bodied counterparts providing similar services.

“Some of the trainees have not worked for the past 10 years owing to their disabilities. We hope that through this programme, we would be able to help them adjust to working again and then gain their financial independence by finding their place in the workforce,” says Mr Loke Ho Yong, Executive Director, The Society for the Physically Disabled.

If the project proves to be a success, the Society plans to train more people with disabilities in this area. It is now looking out for volunteers to help with the training as well as seeking small web design assignments for the team. As part of the Society’s strategy in helping people with physical disabilities to gain employment through IT skills acquisition, its training plan for the next step includes desktop publishing and multi media editing.

As part of its community-service programme, Macromedia South Asia sponsored the training software for the web design course. The trainees have started training in Macromedia Flash MX and Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, and will be trained in Macromedia Fireworks MX by the end of October. The training will also include a practicum where participants will be required to produce an e-card, the best of which would be selected as SPD’s corporate electronic Christmas card for this year.

Mr Ng Yew Hwee, Director, Macromedia South Asia, said: “Macromedia is deeply commited to supporting Internet education and training programmes. Our partnership with the SPD is just one way of realising Macromedia’s vision of the Internet as an immensely useful tool for work and recreation, for everyone.”

Macromedia South Asia has also allowed the team to purchase the academic version of the software for their jobs. This is similar to the professional version but comes at a fraction of the cost. The Tetraplegic Work Group sponsored the training fees of its four members.