Text by Xianne Arcangel and Photos by Mario Ignacio IV
PERSONS with disabilities (PWDs) possessing skills in information and communications technology face a bright future: Companies are turning to them to fill vacancies for highly technical jobs.
At the ICT job fair for PWDs held atthe SM North Edsa Mall on June 14, local and multinational firms offered around 650 computer-related jobs, such as animation and software engineering,to applicants with different types of disabilities.
Colored papers indicating the three most common types of physical disabilities—mobility, hearing and visual—were placed beside the names of participating companies to help jobseekers identify the employers that would accept their applications.
More than 450 applicants attended the job fair, which was jointly organized by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Council on Disability Affairs in celebration of the ICT month.
The growth of job opportunities for PWDs in the ICT sector means that PWDs are no longer confined to working at “saturated” cottage industries such as woodworking and crafts, said Manuel V. Agcaoili, chairman of the Alyansa ng may Kapansanang- Pinoy (AKAP-Pinoy), a federation of 450 PWD organizations.
“Thanks to the IT (information technology) boom in the country, PWDs now have more work options. Saturated na ang cottage industries eh (the cottage industry is already saturated), and we have to go with the times,” he said.
Emer Rojas, the PWD sector representative to the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), said the increasing demand for PWD workers in the ICT industry will help address the recurring problem of unemployment among PWDs.
“More PWDs will find work as long as companies continue hiring them for different kinds of work. When (PWDs) have work, they don’t have to depend on the government for aid. They can live by themselves, they can support themselves and they can live a normal life,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
There are no statistics available, but Rojas estimates that only a small fraction of the country’s 15 million or so PWDs are employed. The most recent statistics on PWDs date back to 2005, with the United Nations putting the number of PWDs in the country at 942,000, or 1.23 percent of the population.
A 2010 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) noted that employment opportunities for PWDs in Metro Manila “are still limited,” with less than a tenth of the 100,000 employable PWDs registered with the Department of Labor and Employment earning wages regularly.
Rojas said ICT companies are more open to hiring PWD employees because they have the available technology to augment their workers’ skills. Some call centers, he said, have invested in special computers and Braille keyboards to support the needs of visuallyimpaired call center agents.
But Agcaoili said employers prefer hiring PWDs for another reason: They are loyal to their bosses.
“With the high attrition rate in call centers and IT companies, employers need employees who would be loyal to them. And that’s where PWDs come in. Nagtatagal ang PWDs sa trabaho kasi iniisip nila, mahirap nang makahanap ng kapalit because in the first place, nahirapan na silang makapasok because of their disability (PWDs stay longer on their jobs because they think it would be harder to find another job since in the first place, they already had difficulty getting hired because of their disability),” he said.
Eric Tansingco’s positive experience in hiring PWD employees encouraged him to open more positions for them in his animation studio. The president and chief executive officer of Take One Animation Studio participated in the job fair hoping to recruit additional artists to join his growing pool of animators.
Tansingco, whose company acts as a subcontractor of the Japanese animation company that produced animated series like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, said the dedication his four deaf animators showed on the job convinced him to employ more PWD artists.
“They begin their work once they’re seated. They don’t do other unnecessary things on the job, like taking long breaks and gossiping with their colleagues,” he said.
The animators’ focus enables them to produce more drawings than their non-PWD counterparts, he added.
Nelia de Jesus, chief of the NCDA’s technology cooperation division, said one of the job fair’s end goals is for the companies to hire PWDs not out of pity, but because they possess the necessary skills for the job.
“This is not a call for the companies (to practice) corporate social responsibility. Rather, we want them to provide (an) equal opportunity” for PWDs, she said.
De Jesus, however, stressed the importance of education as a prerequisite to finding jobs in the ICT sector. She said that only PWDs who are skilled in computer programs would be able to take advantage of the vacancies in the industry as companies require their employees to be “tech-savvy.”
The need for more educated PWDs was noted in the PIDS study, which said that education “can be considered as a critical factor in gaining employment.”
The study said PWDs who did not finish high school are not likely to be employed. PWDs who graduated from high school or took up tertiary courses, on the other hand, are more likely to find work or be employed.
Emer Jean Bravo, who was born with a hearing disability, said finishing college made her feel more confident about her chances of getting a job. Bravo recently obtained her associate degree in Computer Technology from the Miriam College-Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf.
“I think I will be able to apply for more jobs now that I am finished from school,” Bravo wrote. She added that she hoped to find work as an encoder.
Agcaoili said while PWDs should be educated in the latest technology, companies should also be trained to recognize the skills PWDs have to offer. He said recruitment officers should not dismiss any applicant just because he or she has a disability.
“If the HR (human resources) people are willing to adopt the attitude of not looking at a person’s disability, but (at) their ability, more people will be employed. The problem with a lot of HR personnel is that they immediately evaluate a person based on his disability,” he said.
Agcaoili, however, said he does not consider this reaction as discrimination. Rather, employers might just be clueless about how to deal with PWDs.
Most non-PWDs are “not comfortable relating” to PWDs because they do not know how to approach or talk to them, he said.
“Siguro, kung mas aware lang ang tao kung paano maka-relate sa PWDs, hindi na tayo mag-iilagan (Perhaps, if awareness about PWDs is increased, maybe we will not avoid each other anymore),” he said.