“Only when people with disabilities will really be part of the society; will be educated in every kindergarten and any school with personal assistance; live in the community and not in different institutions; work in all places and in any position with accessible means; and will have full accessibility to the public sphere, people may feel comfortable to sit next to us on the bus.”Ahiya (WHO World Report on Disability)
According to the World Health Organisation, disability can be defined as including any of the following interconnected features: impairments in body function or structure, activity limitations such as walking or eating, and participation restrictions on involvement in any part of life. The WHO estimates that 15% of the world’s population is living with some form of disability, which makes it around 90 million people in Southeast Asia alone.
In the past, most disability solutions involved segregating those with significant impairments into special schools or purpose-built institutions, which contributed to people like Ahiya enduring isolation in public spaces. What we need now is a ‘bio-psycho-social model’ that enables people with disabilities (PwD) to be integrated into the rest of society, through understanding, accessibility, and provision of purpose-built equipment. Let’s take a look at the startups on the Southeast Asia tech scene using their expertise to create a more inclusive future.
Rubby Emir, founder of Kerjabilitas, developed an interest in accessibility growing up with a learning-disabled sister. After graduating from university, he worked with an NGO where he noticed one of the biggest hurdles faced by PwDs was access to employment.
Kerjabilitas (which means work-ability) is a job agency, connecting job seekers with disabilities and companies open to hiring them. Its platform allows potential employees to search vacancies according to their abilities, provides career support, facilitates connection and interaction through a networking feature and is designed for use by those with sight and hearing impairments.
According to Emir, the biggest challenge is increasing awareness, since understanding of disabilities in Indonesia is still very low.
(these)abilities is a design and technology company aiming to ‘disable disabilities’ through the creation of products that ‘level the playing field’. Their focus areas are accessibility to technology, re-integration through social inclusion, and educating the public to understand disability.
Founder Ken Chua entered the sector as a teaching assistant at the Cerebral Palsy Association of Singapore where he observed most obstacles were design problems. This inspired him to obtain skills to create solutions at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
“People are born differently-abled, not disabled, but because society has minimal inclusion for such people, it renders them disabled,” Chua has said, while also stating, “We could do more, and we should do more.”
Enablecode is a software company launched by two British expats, Colin Blackwell and Paul Bappoo, who wanted to give back to the community they lived in.
Enablecode specialises in app development and digital marketing, and only hires computer experts with disabilities. Their vision is to change society’s perception of people with disabilities by delivering a high-quality service and running a strong business, emphasising that people with disabilities can thrive and contribute to society and their families.
“In Vietnam, there are about 15 million people with disabilities, and the unemployment rate amongst them is about 80%,” says Blackwell, explaining that this is primarily due to the expectation that anyone with a disability will not be able to join the workforce.
Enablecode maintains that their ‘everything is possible’ attitude and superior problem-solving abilities is due to the company’s 15 staff members each having had to overcome significant adversity in their lives.
Difalink is ‘an online platform that helps people with disabilities to get decent jobs and better mobility.’ CEO Ni Komang Ayu Suriani founded the company in 2017, making it her full-time venture in 2018.
In Indonesia, companies are legally required to employ PwDs as 1% of their staff, but this is largely ignored. Difalink works with both employers and employees, helping PwDs get the education and skills they require, and assists companies to work effectively with them.
“I found it funny how companies have so many items on their own wish list when it comes to hiring people with disabilities, requirements like not blind, not deaf, no wheelchair, which basically makes it impossible for anyone to be eligible,” says Suriani.
She also notes that most Indonesian people can’t afford prosthetic limbs, so Difalink works with local companies to make affordable, high-quality mobility aids, funding the venture through companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility mandates. This allows businesses to fulfil their legal requirements and use the funding effectively whilst also seeing the results of their contributions; an arrangement Suriani describes as a “win-win” for all parties involved.
“Every hero needs a sidekick,” explains the website, and co-founders Zachary, Shafiqah and Sayid Hafiz are dedicated to helping every strong-willed hero win the battle against mental conditions to achieve their full potential.
PsychKick is a mobile platform that aims to fill the gaps between therapist visits to maximise the effectiveness of therapy. It integrates evidence-based cognitive behavioural approaches with modern technology to improve commitment, engagement and results.
Whether you view disability and inclusivity from a humanitarian, economic, creative or public relations perspective, it makes sense to consider it in your business plan. The future is inclusive, and it’s time the world took a new look at what we can offer differently-abled people, and what they can offer us.