Every successful business explores every possible opportunity and advantage. Businesses need to stay ahead not just of the competition, but also of the consistent demand of a profitable bottom line. That means making the most of resources that may be overlooked or underutilized. Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) represent a vast wellspring of untapped potential in terms of skill and productivity.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), one in seven persons, or approximately 15% of the world’s population, has a disability. That’s over 1 billion people: a sizable demographic.
“Think ‘ability first.’ Meaning, look at the person’s skills and talents, not their disability,” says Yves Veulliet, IBM’s Global Disability & Inclusion Program Manager, in a video testimonial for the ILO. “Three words: talent, talent, and talent. People with disabilities are just that: people who have training, education, and experience to offer. As the economy is getting better, the war for talents intensifies. Not maximizing the previously untapped potential that people with disabilities brings to the workplace is, simply put, an economic mistake.”
Exploring the potential of Filipinos with disabilities
Project Inclusion is a Unilab Foundation initiative that works towards broadening the employment landscape of PWDs in the Philippines. To date, the program has collaborated directly with 22 different employers from various fields. This pool of steadily growing partner employers recognizes the strengths of having inclusive workspaces, and they have seen significant gains specifically because of their PWD employment.
One such partner employer is Citihub, a social enterprise that provides affordable housing and living spaces for low-income workers in Metro Manila. “One might think that by hiring PWDs, your work efficiency will go down, that you’ll have to make a lot of adjustments,” says CEO Panya Boonsirithum. “But from what I have experienced, with good job matching for their capabilities, [PWDs] can perform way better than abled individuals. For example, our housekeeping staff are deaf. I would say they value their work more than a regular abled person. They’re never late; they’re always on time. They appreciate it. They work better, they’re more efficient. And the environment in our dorms gets better too. People get to be more patient, more understanding, because of the interaction with the PWDs.”
Southstar Drug is a drugstore subsidiary of Robinsons Retail with nearly 500 branches throughout the Philippines. There are currently 25 PWDs among their staff. “Pag match yung skills nila, that lessens the turnaround time for so many tasks,” explains training manager Christine Pambuan. “Tasks that would normally take a month, nagagawa nila agad. And with fewer errors, kasi they’re very conscientious, and you also have that confidence na hindi sila magloloko.”
Both companies have been engaged with Project Inclusion since 2016. Their PWDs are in a variety of job positions, both on the front line dealing with the public and in office contexts. The interactions have not only been positive but have also yielded results beyond expectations.
The benefits of disability
Southstar Drug has persons with Down syndrome working in their stores. Pambuan shares, “It’s a drug store, our customers don’t come in para mag-shopping. They’re there because may pinagdadaanan, they’re sick, so they’re not in a good mood. Persons with Down syndrome, by nature, are malambing, sweet. They tend to attract the customers more. It wasn’t really the plan, but that’s what we see happening. A lot of customers arrive in a really bad mood, and then they end up wanting to come back because [the PWDs] are there.”
The benefits are clear within Southstar Drug’s headquarters as well: “In the head office, our PWD employees are more mabusisi sa work. A lot of the tasks that normally take months to do, like filing, all the clerical tasks, they finish in just weeks. So bumibilis din yung trabaho, having them around.”
Working with PWDs leads to more organized, polite spaces as well. “Our tenants, the people staying in our dorms, actually appreciate [having PWDs around],” emphasizes Boonsirithum. “Our dorms have a capacity of 400. And we only have three PWD deaf housekeeping looking after those 400. But because they’re so comfortable and understanding, the tenants help out. They’re very orderly, they throw trash properly in trash cans, they don’t loiter. So, it makes it easier also for our housekeeping staff to do their job. It gets to be a nice partnership. There’s a different, better culture in our dorms because of the PWDs.”
A future of inclusive possibilities
Moving forward, both companies have clear plans beyond employing PWDs, exploring paths of advancement. Boonsirithum says, “We will continue with our advocacy to support [Project Inclusion]. We’re really considering having all our sites staffed with PWDs. We’re even now developing career development plans for them. Like with housekeeping, we don’t want them to be janitors for the rest of their lives. We want to have a three-year program, that after three years of staying with us, they could move on to being data encoders, for example. Improve their career.”
Pambuan sees similar avenues opening up for PWDs in Southstar Drug: “Definitely we want to hire more. In 2017, our expansion was very aggressive, so we reached 475 branches [across the Philippines]. For 2018, hindi pa namin makita yung exact numbers, but we really see the good in hiring more PWDs. What we see in the future is hopefully that we get to influence our sister companies [in Robinsons Retail] to see the merit as well.”
All the other employers that Project Inclusion has worked with have similar success stories of their own. Developing inclusive workspaces is a proven benefit to the professional landscape, and the return on investment in PWDs always exceeds expectations.
Through Project Inclusion, Unilab Foundation improves work access for Persons with Disability.
It aims to build more inclusive workplaces, and to change the narrative of PWD employment from a charity case to a business case. Since its inception in 2013, the program has provided 508 PWDs with improved access to work opportunities. To learn more about Project Inclusion and how employers can broaden their horizons, visit http://www. unilabfoundation.org/, or email projectinclusion (at) unilabfoundation.org.