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  • Denice Vias

Miles Away: Marching Forward for Work Inclusion

When it comes to raising children with special needs, parents—and even teachers—ask: after the child graduates, what happens next?

How do Persons with Disability (PWDs) go to school? How do they learn skills that will help them function and thrive in society?

PWDs often do not attend regular schools, but instead go to intervention centers that focus on their specific disabilities and needs. Unfortunately, based on the Directory Resources published by Autism Society Philippines in October 2005, there is a shortage of intervention centers in the Philippines. Moreover, few schools offer programs that support PWDs’ transition from school to work.

When it comes to raising children with special needs, parents—and even teachers—ask: after the child graduates, what happens next?

This is the gap that Prof. Abelardo Apollo I. David, Jr., wanted to address. In 2013, he founded Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC), a center that aims to assist youth with developmental conditions. ILLC’s primary goal is to provide programs to help adolescents and young adults transition to a workplace in the future.

Proactive Curriculum

ILLC programs are anchored on equipping PWDs with viable life skills—social, self-help, communication, or recreational—that would holistically enrich the students. The programs are flexible, meaning they can be customized according to the student’s needs, based on the outcome of the extensive assessments.

The Transition Education Program (TEP) mostly accommodates teens and young adults, and teaches them with practical learning skills that would allow them to move from school to workplace. Those who are prepared for academic instruction, and are interested in attaining a diploma, are recommended to the Functional Basic Education program (FBE), a supplementary program that helps students gain credentials for a diploma.

A more recent development at ILLC is the Job Readiness Program (JRP), which “offers opportunities for the students to learn inception work and behavior skills in actual but controlled work environments,” explains Teacher Archie. Here, the students learn what it is like to work professionally. For PWDs, it is a good way to train and prepare for an actual work environment.

Students who show exceptional performance are transferred to mainstream establishments to undergo training. ILLC makes sure that these establishments are well-equipped to accept PWDs by conducting trainings and seminars.

Those who qualify for actual work placement are advised to take the Work Placement Program (WRP). From here, ILLC identifies the interests, skills, and attitudes of the students, in order to identify potential companies that would match their capabilities.

Through ILLC’s proactive curriculum focused on job preparation, the students receive sufficient preparation for work.

Preparing for Work

Looking for a job and earning a living is a necessary but difficult task. For PWDs, it is even tougher, because they have to find companies that are willing to hire them.

ILLC supports and encourages PWDs to go beyond their limits and maximize their potential. But ILLC also stands out because of the core goal of all its programs: quality job preparation for work inclusion.

For PWDs, job preparation is vital for developing their sense of responsibility and maturity, as well as their potential to be independent, especially for adult PWDs. This preparation is the responsibility not only of the PWD, but also of the surrounding institutions and individuals, which can have great impact on the process and outcome. This is where ILLC can help.

Better Opportunities through Job Matching

In a year, ILLC places four to five of their PWD students in their partner companies and establishments. For ILLC, it is not about how many students they place, but how well the students do at their jobs. The secret is constant communication and consultations, as needed, with their partner companies.

Because of their programs, ILLC leads in job preparation for PWDs. “They say that our students are very dedicated, very dependable. They’re trustworthy, and they also inspire their coworkers because despite their limitations, they always demonstrate their best to do their work well,” said Teacher Archie.

Once, Teacher Archie worked with a Person with Autism who had a penchant for codes and numbers. The student started as an Assistant Librarian, but they knew that he wanted to be financially independent. ILLC found an architectural firm that needed someone to check the codes for the architectural drawing. Soon, the PWD impressed the firm with his skills.

ILLC believes that “a good match between the job’s demands, and the person’s interests and skills, is the key to efficiency and positive outcomes.”

Partners in Inclusion

Job preparation takes much effort, patience, and dedication. To ease the workload, ILLC partners with other organizations who also champion workplace inclusion. One such partner is Unilab Foundation’s Project Inclusion, an program that enables employment for PWDs.

Since partnering with Project Inclusion in 2014, Teacher Archie shared that “the school can now focus on teaching and training and perhaps orienting the companies, instead of scouting for potential employers.” In the same manner, Project Inclusion finds employable PWDs from ILLC’s graduate pool, a win-win situation.

But the real winners are the PWDs who are able to find employment through ILLC and its partners. To date, Project Inclusion has placed 11 PWDs who graduated from ILLC. Some have been regularized, while others have been employed for over two years.

Teacher Archie says, “I feel very grateful and blessed that ILLC has Unilab Foundation and Project Inclusion, among other organizations, as partners. And through our collaborative efforts, we are able to realize our mission of enabling individuals with developmental conditions attain their optimum level of independence and quality of life, and become productive, integrated, and happy members of the society.”

More and more PWDs, families, and companies are being supported. In the coming years, ILLC envisions itself as having “an even bigger role in promoting social inclusion of persons with disabilities. We hope to see more students being included in the workplace, and individuals capable of being more independent. We hope to participate in initiatives that would give access to Filipinos from work communities to much-needed care in terms of educational and health programs.”

Training and preparing PWDs for work inclusion entails an immense responsibility, not only for intervention centers, but also for parents and PWDs. But this persistence in job preparation and work inclusion gives PWDs the opportunity to learn the walks of life on their own, and helps them move forward.

A more inclusive Philippines is one that provides access and chance to anyone, including those who are abled differently.

About the author: Denice Vias prefers to be called Debby. She is a writing major of the BA Communication Arts program at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, and an intern at Unilab Foundation. In the middle of the night, she likes having a stroll around UPLB Grove to generate new ideas because noise serves as a trigger for her creativity.

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