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The Designer's Career for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs)


Naturally, the ever-changing society is constantly seeking and asking if it is keeping up with the way individuals communicate with one another. Be it instant sharing or a consistent subscription of newsletters, the nature of communication has been rapidly altered by technology.


For the designer in the social service sector, it is crucial to face these changes with a receptive heart, discerning eyes and a pair of nimble feet. The subtle art of communication lies in its facilitation and design- how can we craft out an user experience as fitting as our second skin?


Slowly and surely, the role of design has been steering the center role of decision-making and business processes.


Albeit being an uncommon career path, design provides an alternative route for PwDs to seek employment. Adding to the list of existing viable professions, openings for designers should be advocated with a loudspeaker. Transforming receivers into givers, the full potential of this untapped pool of talent has yet to be realised. A rising trend in the recent years, more training courses have been focusing on visual communication, digital marketing and even web design for PwDs.


Furthermore, there are numerous assistive tools like a special roller mouse and modified keyboard to help passionate designers to overcome disability and focus on ability.

Above it all, the most important change that design can bring is a mindset change. As Robert M. Hensel, the Guinness World Records holder for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair, advocates: "As a disabled man, let my life be a reflection of the endless amount of ability that exists in each and everyone of us.”


Design can open doors and make a way for PwDs to have a sustainable, dignified livelihood.


Mimi Ng, a deaf entrepreneur, recounted how her interest in learning has sparked her to sign up for a course in digital marketing. At the end of the course, her positive mindset enabled her gain a better understanding in social media marketing and content creation. With new skills, she was able to further improve on her online business.


Starting from home ground, social service organisations can disrupt the local marketplace by supportively engaging PwDs for creative projects. The Senior Manager of Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore (MDAS),Judy Wee, also advocates for more opportunities to link training courses up with employment opportunities thereafter. In order to put learnt skills into good use, these opportunities should follow up as platforms for PwDs to continue honing their craft.


Other than freelancing, the corporate workplace is a great platform to engage these inspiring designers as well. Having said that, employers do need to take in a few considerations before making the commitment to engage PwDs. In Singapore, Gobblershop is one of the supporting organisations that engage communities-in-need for their creative projects. Their belief in helping individuals identify and harness abilities to gain self-confidence and meaning in life motivated them to welcome PwDs on board.


Before the collaboration, their main concern was over the adjustments and crafting of work processes that would cater better to their new designers. Other than that, they also made sure their whole team was on the same page, with the right mindset and skills to create an inclusive environment for varying needs. Sometimes, a small tweak in the arrangement of office furniture or clearer instructions can drastically help to strengthen and productivity.

Adding on to the conversation, we should also be careful so as not to put the cart before the horse. As mindsets change to embrace more PwDs in the design industry, constant attention will need to be given to design and provide quality training courses and exposure for better portfolios.


We are definitely charting good progress thus far. For example, 9 out of 16 PwDs found new job employment opportunities after completing a digital marketing course in 2017. Another 2 of them enjoyed a salary increment at work, while 3 others started their own businesses. The remaining 2 students also had companies expressing interest to engage them after attending their final presentation.


Facilitating design courses for PwDs are an unique experience as well. Wendy Chan, a lecturer teaching essential communication to PwDs, recalled how teaching a class with a diverse background calls for specific changes to her usual curriculum as well. Some classes have students with different special needs, and sometimes she has to be mindful to explain the content first and before writing or typing it out on the screen again.


On anticipating future challenges, Wendy responded that both the employer and employee have to work together for the collaboration to succeed in the long term. While more can be done to strengthen genuine acceptance and celebrate inclusivity in the workplace, the latter also has to possess the confidence and courage to prepare themselves whatever that comes along.


Moving forward to design, for good.


There is still so much gold that the social service sector can draw out in the world today. For organisations to thrive in the disruptive setting today, effective communication is a poignant key. From crafting purposeful messages to conducting meaningful programmes, design is an essential plug-in to the social service circuit. It is pretty safe to say that there is much space and hope for it to develop further as a way of life, especially for persons with disabilities.

For enquiries on where and how to collaborate with our ability-focused designers, we would love to meet up for a chat at https://www.makethechange.sg/contact.


We are also honoured to share some of our thoughts on Social Space, the flagship publication of the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, at the Singapore Management University (SMU). The full piece can be viewed on https://socialspacemag.org/designing-for-a-better-tomorrow/.


Useful Links and References

Amy Eisenstein. Seth Godin on Successful Fundraising - Ask the Fundraising Expert. May 13, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsnap5Oh8S8

Godin, Seth. "The problem with non." September 15, 2009. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/09/the-problem-with-non.html

Testimonial Digital Marketing For PwDs. September 11, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzfK5ypf6Fo

Inclusive hiring isn’t just about a barrier-free workplace. March 9, 2017.

"MTC Integrated Programme for Persons With Disabilities." September 19, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=99&v=nF7JBMeW0a4

Make The Change Pte Ltd. "The MTC Spotlight: GobblerShop." July 13, 2017.

SG ENable. "RECRUITMENT & HIRING OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES." SG Enable Online Series for Employers, 2016, 1-45. https://s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/sgenableprod/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/29062757/SG-Enable-HRM-Guide-Recruitment-and-Hiring.pdf

Testimonial- Mimi Ng. September 11, 2017. https://www.facebook.com/MakethechangeSG/videos/vb.330697383702199/1222713521167243/?type=2&theater

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