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Hiring persons with mental disability



If you were a business owner, would you hire a person with a mental disability? Probably not. One may argue that hiring a qualified employee for a job vacancy is difficult enough. Therefore, why would a business entity hire an individual with limited skills and who would likely require additional supervision because of his or her special condition?

Indeed, hiring persons with disabilities (PWDs) is not a norm in Philippine companies, especially since we don’t have the equivalent of affirmative-action legislation for PWDs in the country, unlike in the United States or in several European countries. Some companies, however, have started hiring those with physical disabilities (e.g. visually-impaired, hearing-impaired, and physically-impaired), especially if their skills are suited to the requirements of the job. Physically-impaired individuals, for example, won’t have problems performing jobs that require them to work in front of the computer most of the time. However, hiring persons with mental disability (PMDs) brings with it different challenges that might be difficult to overcome.

Through ‘Project Inclusion’, a research project funded by the Unilab Foundation and undertaken by a multidisciplinary team formed by the DLSU Social Development Research Center (SDRC), I got a chance to see how it is possible for PMDs to be part of a typical workplace. For this study, we found five companies and two government agencies that have accommodated PMDs in the workplace, three of which formally hired the PMDs. The four other companies took in the PMD to accommodate the request of owners or relatives of owners who have a special child.

Our study shows that the hiring decision largely depends on the following: (a) the business owner’s exposure to exceptional individuals, (b) the business owner’s value system, (c) the nature of business, and (d) the available resources of the business. Clearly, a signal from top management is key to the entry of a PMD in the workplace. In several cases, the individual concerned is a relative of the owner of the business. With a clear leadership mandate, the stage is set for work adjustments to be undertaken by those in charge of managing the business (i.e., if the owners are not directly involved in business operations). Knowing that the individual is related to the owner, regular employees are, therefore, likely to treat the said individual with due respect.

Equally important is designing the work to fit the special individual’s skills, temperament, and inclination. In most of the cases, they were given tasks that are simple and that allow the concerned individuals to settle into a daily routine. Having a supervisor or co-employee watching over the performance of the PMD also helps in terms of ensuring the quality of work done by the latter.

Worth highlighting is the fact that managers, supervisors, and co-workers that regularly deal with PMDs develop certain skills (e.g., listening and communication skills, conflict resolution skills, counseling skills) that could be valuable for the organization. The presence of PMDs in the workplace could also result into a more supportive and caring organizational culture that could enhance overall productivity. Naturally, this caring culture makes it easier for persons with disability (whether physical or mental) to adjust in the workplace, if more of them are subsequently hired in the organization.

Raymund B. Habaradas is an Associate Professor at the Management and Organization Department of De La Salle University, where he teaches Management of Organizationsand Management Research. He welcomes comments at rbhabaradas@yahoo.com.The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

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