Joanna, HI Personalized Support Officer, and Kyenna, during one of their coaching sessions within the frame of the Forward Together project, an inclusive employment and livelihood project. | © Twyla David / HI
In the Philippines and Indonesia, HI is addressing a problem that young people with disabilities face every day: unemployment or underemployment.
Youth with disabilities are rarely included in the workplace and are often times forgotten. To help them access decent jobs, HI is leading a project called “Forward Together,” which starts from the workplace!
Forward Together is an inclusive employment and livelihood project, led by HI in the Philippines and in Indonesia. Throughout a successful three-year pilot phase, HI learned a lot. We became more efficient in the area, while supporting 380 young people with disabilities and more than 50 companies to be more disability inclusive. The project is now being officially relaunched in the Philippines and Indonesia, and will later arrive in Vietnam.
The aim of the project is to empower people between the ages of 18 and 45 with disabilities, by increasing their access to decent employment. The approach is two-fold. The Forward Together project engages companies who want to hire youth with disabilities, then supports young people with disabilities in accessing decent employment. This is done through personalized coaching to ensure they have adequate skills to enter into formal salaried or self-employment. HI teams also provide technical assistance to employers to prepare them to recruit, retain and provide professional development opportunities for employees with disabilities.
HI is tackling a major problem for young people with disabilities: one of the most devalued, underemployed and financially disadvantaged groups in society. The systemic exclusion of persons with disabilities, especially in the workplace, is one of the forms of social prejudice that youth with disabilities experience consistently. In the Philippines for example, even with a formal degree, a blind person will generally not have access to training or a profession that matches their skill level. In fact, the only common profession available to people with visual disabilities is massage therapy. This situation worsened during the Covid-19 period during which young people with disabilities became more marginalized than ever.
‘Young people often have skills and commitment that could get them a good job or position. At HI, we're working to ensure that they can access decent, productive employment," says Twyla David, HI's Forward Together coordinator, who helped launch the project in 2018.
HI helps young people to build their own projects. They can choose between self-employment or hired by an employer. HI provides personalized support, including assistance devices such as special screens or glasses, mobility aids, coaching sessions, as well as allowances to support them financially until they receive their first paycheck. HI also provides support for individuals creating their own business.
“They have to be of working age with basic literacy, a satisfactory level of autonomy and ability, and with adequate support from their families”, explains Twyla. “We use the personalized social support approach; we try to bring their skills and passions to the forefront. We want to help them to work where they feel safe, productive and valued,” Twyla says.
The journey to inclusive employment is not an easy one, so people and their families may need coaching along the way, even after landing a job. HI conducts household visits and provides job coaching to increase self-confidence. Peer-support groups are also set up to provide social support and ensure that the youth feel accompanied throughout the process.
Regarding the companies, our goal is to strengthen their capacity to hire people with disabilities and protect their rights in the work place. HI provides businesses with technical support and training sessions on disability awareness, inclusive hiring and talent acquisition. The project also supports companies in drafting inclusive business continuity plans and inclusive disaster risk management for their offices.
“It does not matter to us if the company has experience hiring persons with disabilities or not. The most important is their readiness to do so,” says Twyla about the partner companies in the project. “We help them with the most difficult step in achieving inclusive employment: getting started.”
While each participant is at the heart of the project, stakeholders are also important. HI works together with a pool of young jobseekers, small, middle or large companies, and with public employment offices which themselves also support other companies. HI also provides assistance to technical schools and professional institutions.
“Disability-Inclusive, sustainable, and community-based,” this is the way Twyla explains the main outcomes of the Forward Together project. Its name reminds us that changes are effective only if everyone is on-board.
“I want to talk to you about 26-year-old Kyenna, a strong advocate for the deaf community. She has a hearing disability and communicates through sign language. She specializes in video editing, special effects, digital illustration and layout. HI has been supporting in the pursuit of her professional goals through coaching, training, and job preparation such as mock interviews. Thanks to this support, she is now pursuing a career in visual graphic design in Manila,” says Twyla.
Let's wish a long and happy professional life to Kyenna and to all the young people supported by HI!