Towards an Inclusive Workforce Forum 2015 – Speech by Ms Jessica Tan

• Miss Chia Yong Yong, President, SPD
• Students and parents
• Ladies and gentlemen

1. Good morning. On behalf of SPD, SG Enable, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and Microsoft… welcome to the fifth Towards an Inclusive Workforce 2015.

2. A progressive society is one that is inclusive. Earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in his Budget 2015 round-up speech, highlighted how Singapore has embarked on major moves to build a more inclusive society and mitigate inequalities through early intervention that ensures that everyone has the best chance to succeed… regardless of who they are or where they are in life. As an example, in the last five years, our spending on students with special needs – through our Special Education (SPED) schools – has increased by 50%. This has gone towards strengthening the SPED curriculum, and helping to train the teachers in our SPED schools.

3. In addition to what the government does, organizations such as SPD and SG Enable play important roles to empower persons with disabilities and their caregivers with the necessary support, enhance their employability options, as well as engage their family and community to help them be integral members of society.

4. Beyond the government and NPO or VWO organizations, there is a role for individuals and businesses to play in our inclusive society.

5. At Microsoft, we believe that our continued success depends on the diverse skills, experiences, and backgrounds that our employees bring to the company. Diversity + Inclusion = Success. This is a formula that we believe in and are committed to.

6. We believe that people from the various disability-related communities provide us with valuable perspectives on how we develop products and services, how we market them, and how we deal with issues of customer satisfaction. In other words, we benefit greatly in terms of innovation by having these viewpoints present among our employee work force. Microsoft’s Accessibility and Disability Group works closely with product developers, accessibility-aid vendors and disability advocates to ensure that the accessibility features included in Microsoft products enable all workers to benefit from the use of information technology on the job. Microsoft’s Office, the Windows operating system, including web browsing features, contain features designed specifically for people with a variety of disabilities.

7. The challenges and reality of diverse hiring also helps to make Microsoft a stronger workplace and community. It builds our understanding of, and compassion for, the needs and challenges confronted by others and demonstrates that we all have the right to engage in meaningful work opportunities, regardless of our differences.

8. I am very encouraged that you have chosen to be here today, to engage in a conversation to address the problem of underemployment among the disability community, and advance stronger fair employment in Singapore.

9. At Microsoft, we also believe that technology has the power to bridge opportunity divides. We believe technology should empower people, eliminate barriers, improve lives and strengthen communities. We believe it should give everyone – including seniors, people with disabilities, and youth – the opportunities to connect, engage, and contribute more fully to our society and economy. In Singapore, we have focused on addressing the needs of seniors and people with disabilities.

10. We do this through long-term collaboration with local NPOs such as SPD, who share a common vision of integrating people with disabilities into our society and empowering them to explore the opportunities that will allow them to be the best that they can be.

11. It is through this joint vision that we first set up the Infocomm Accessibility Centre to provide IT training for people with disabilities to enhance their employability. Since 2009, the Centre – together with partners and supporters – has providing training to more than 2,200 individuals. Many has also gone on to secure gainful employment.

12. Among them is Michael Quek. Michael was an electrician who loved salsa dancing until he suffered a devastating stroke. He lost everything that was familiar to him… including a job that required him to climb up and down ladders. Through use of assistive technology like sticky keys and training from SPD, he has since found a job designing posters and backdrops at an event company. Beyond learning a new skill and finding a new career, the most important lesson that Michael learnt – and shares with people he meet – is “disable does not mean unable.”

13. Ensuring that our youths are presented with the opportunities to realize their full potential by connecting them with greater education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities has been another key focus for Microsoft. Globally, we do this through the Microsoft YouthSpark programme which focuses on:
• Empowering youth by helping transform education and expand digital inclusion
• Unleashing future innovators by giving youth the inspiration and tools to imagine new opportunities
• Helping youth realize new opportunities of employability and entrepreneurship

14. Through our partnership with SPD, we also started the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship in 2009 to help nurture and develop promising youths in Singapore with disabilities to achieve their full potential. The scholarship also seeks to motivate youths with disabilities to pursue higher level of education in IT, as well as have them serve as role models to encourage other youths with disabilities to strive for their own success.

15. Since 2009, we have awarded 28 scholarships to 26 students. This includes the five students that will receive the scholarship this year. Each year, when we listen to what the scholarship applicants have to share – I never cease to be inspired and encouraged by their stories.

Among this year’s recipients is Ang Chin Hao, who had received the scholarship in 2013 too. Chin Hao was born with macular dystrophy – a rare genetic disorder that causes vision loss that presented him with difficulties in following what was taught in class. He shared that the scholarship had given him motivation to work doubly hard for his Degree in Engineering (Computer Engineering) at Nanyang Technological University, and this has rewarded him with a Grade Point Average of 3.7, as well as being the top 15 percent of his cohort. Chin Hao hopes that what he has achieved will encourage other students with disabilities to not give up as – I quote – our disabilities do not disqualify us from achieving success. I look forward to seeing Chia Hao complete his studies and realize his dream of being an IT entrepreneur.

16. We congratulate these five remarkable students, and commend them for their positive spirit in overcoming the many challenges that life has thrown their way. We wish them the very best in their education and hope that their success will inspire other youths with disabilities to keep dreaming and striving for the best they can be.

17. As we celebrate their achievements today, I hope that this event will serve as a reminder that we all have a part to play in nurturing a fair and inclusive workplace – whether we are employers, managers, or colleagues.

18. I would like to thank our partners at SPD, for their perseverance and commitment to enabling people with disabilities to truly realize their full potential.

19. Congratulations once again to our scholarship recipients. We look forward to learning more about… and learning from… you.

20. Thank you.