SMU and SPD Advocate Education for Inclusive Workspaces

SINGAPORE, 3 February 2015 – With a shared vision to drive thought leadership in diversity and inclusion in both learning and work environments, SMU and SPD held a conference today on “Education for Inclusive Workspaces”. The event brought about invaluable dialogue amongst employers, educators, students and professionals working with people with disabilities.

An audience of 300 guests, hailing from corporate companies, the government sector, social services and non-profit organisations, academia and the community of people with disabilities, were at the forum that explored the role of education in helping to build a better place tomorrow, in connection with the working world.

Advocating equal opportunities for all, particularly through more inclusive work and education spaces for persons with disabilities, the conference provided a platform to facilitate discussion, accelerate knowledge transfer, and aid the development of more extensive collaborations to better integrate people with special needs.

This is the second conference since SPD and SMU signed a memorandum of understanding in February 2014 to collaborate on best practices for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Institutes of Higher Learning.

The collaboration has led to several developments by both organisations over the past year. SPD has been working with SMU in advancing disability awareness training for faculty, staff and students, and facilitating discussions with SMU’s Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre to provide advice both to graduating students with disabilities, as well as with the university’s career counsellors. Over the past year, SMU has also rolled out a Diversity Leadership Development Programme with support from the National Integration Council, introduced a new core course Diversity Management in Asia, improved processes for disability support, and encouraged student-led efforts aimed at supporting and educating on disability.

The theme of the conference “Education for Inclusive Workspaces” is especially relevant as more persons with disabilities are graduating with higher education and seeking employment. Their transition from the school to the workforce is important – the support and accommodation extended to students with disabilities cannot stop at schools.

SPD President and NMP, Ms Chia Yong Yong, who is a person with disabilities and understands the challenges and issues of pursuing higher education and an active career, voiced the importance of increasing the momentum of the collaborative efforts. She remarked, “As a nation, more can be done to help students with disabilities adapt and integrate into their new learning environment. There is also the need to help them transit from tertiary education to the working world when they enter the mainstream workforce. This will involve educating employers on inclusive hiring and encouraging more firms to offer internships to students with disabilities, just to name a few.

“There is a need for greater visibility and dialogue in society for public discourse on disability issues, and educational institutions can lead this space. This afternoon’s conference brings together voices representing stakeholders that will help make learning and work spaces in Singapore truly inclusive.”

SMU President, Professor Arnoud De Meyer, said in his welcome address, “While universities are great spaces for ideas, experiments, experiences and exchanges, and we contribute generously to conversations, the applications and adaptation require the input of professionals and practitioners. There is much that we can do, and want to do, but none of that will mean much if we don’t have the support of business entities, social organisations, volunteers, the government, and society.

“Students are the leaders of tomorrow who can influence and change the world, and carry on the mission of championing diversity and inclusion. But everyone has a role to play in shaping the world and organisational behaviour in the future. Success can only be achieved if we embrace diversity, and diversity is a key ingredient to success for any individual or organisation who wants to make a difference.”

Dr Amanda Kraus, a Disability Specialist from the Disability Resource Centre and Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project, and Master’s Programme Coordinator of Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Arizona, shared expert insights on disability identity and dynamics in the keynote presentation.

Two panel discussions, one addressing inclusive education, and the other inclusive workspaces, were held. They were moderated by Dr Lois Lydens, who works on Diversity and Inclusion within SMU’s Office of Global Learning, which spearheaded the conference organisation. The panelists were a mix of practitioners and educators, including persons with disabilities:

Panel Discussion 1: An Inclusive Education
– Dr Wong Meng Ee, Assistant Professor at Early Childhood and Special Needs Education Academic Group, National Institute of Education (NIE)
– Ms Angela Chung, Senior Social Worker, SPD
– Mr Jeffrey Soh, SMU Alumnus & Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Scholar; Operations Project Manager, Goldman Sachs
– Mr Albert Lee, Senior Lecturer, Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) Academy

Panel Discussion 2: Inclusive Workspaces
– Mr Rajan Raju, Head of Retail Clients, Singapore, Standard Chartered Bank
– Ms Anika Grant, ASEAN and Asia Pacific Human Resources, Accenture
– Ms Charlotte Park, CEO, and Chairperson of Diversity and Inclusion Council, Mercer Singapore