Handican for people with disabilities
Inclusive Sustainable Development Goals addresses all three dimensions of sustainable development- environmental, economic and social. Disability is referenced in various parts of the 17 Goals specifically in education, growth, employment, inequality, data collection and monitoring. Goal 4 focuses on inclusive and equitable education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all, while Goal 8 promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and productive employment and decent work for all. Moreover, Goal 10 strives to reduce inequality by empowering and promoting socio-economic-political inclusion for all and Goal 17 stresses the importance of strengthening global partnerships for sustainable development through data collection, monitoring and accountability to make available high quality, timely and reliable data to address the needs of people with disabilities. As we fast-approach 2025, what is being done to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities?
Handican is a social innovation platform that serves to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Thailand. According to the data on disability produced by the National Statistical Office of Thailand in 2012, there are over 1.8 million people living with disabilities in Thailand, of which most live in non-municipal areas. The population of people living with disabilities accounts for 2.17 percent of the total Thai population (over 68 million people). Among the 1.8 million disabled people, 455,990 are unemployed and 118,144 cannot work. The Handican platform focuses on creating employment opportunities for those with visual impairment, hearing disabilities and physical disabilities among the 455,990 unemployed people with disabilities in Thailand. The Handican team sat down with the UNDP Thailand Social Innovation Platform team to talk about employment for people with disabilities.
Can you give us an overview of Handican’s journey so far?
(Pakorn) I was inspired by a speaker who talked about the discrimination of people with disabilities during a talk event. Soon after that, I started a class on Planet and Society with Professor Massimo at Thammasat University. The class provided learning on platform business, Sustainable Development Goals and UX/UI designs. During the class one of the guest lecturers asked us how we can find information, or request information, on people with disabilities in Thailand. The issue was that even for Thai people it was difficult to find information on people with disabilities. The talk event reminded me of the problem of people with disabilities and so the research began. The Handican team was formed in the Planet and Society class in the first semester of our third year. Through the course, the Handican team got an opportunity to join the Youth Colab event organized by the Thailand Social Innovation Platform (UNDP Thailand) in November 2017, during which we only had an idea for the social business. Through the 3 day workshop our team developed the idea and was then selected as the second team to pitch on the final day of the event. The idea was pitched and we won awards for Social Value by Social Value Thailand, Friendly Design Innovation Awards by Airsia, Social Innovation for Young Innovative Entreprenueurs Awards by NIA, and Social Enterprise New Gen Awards by True. Through this we discovered that this problem has value and we went on to find more people with disabilities and employers to discuss about this problem. Currently, we are still researching and improving our service products.
What inspired you to develop Handican?
Through our research we found a societal problem that we can solve by improving the gap of Attitude, Accessibility and Ability between people with disabilities and employers. We want this platform to fill that gap to ensure that everyone has equal rights to employment opportunities and are treated equally.
What does employment mean to people with disabilities in Thailand?
Employment to people with disabilities means an opportunity to show their ability and potential so that the society understands them and gives them a chance. If they are incorporated into the society, their status will change and the way people see them will change. Employment is an opportunity to prove themselves and feel that they are needed. Employment affects their daily life since having a job shows that they have enough potential to make benefit and fit in the company. This can prove that people with disabilities can live on their own without relying on others in the same society.
What is the greatest challenge of developing a social innovation platform for people with disabilities? How did you manage to overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge is changing the mindset. Most people with disabilities think that they are not in the same society. Some of them are not connected with us because they create their own community. Another challenge is that some people with disabilities are afraid of the rest of society. The question is how can we help them to go out of their comfort zone to live in the same society.
When we first researched on the people with disabilities and the employers we concluded that there are three main challenges, we call them the 3 As: Attitude, Ability and Accessibility problems. The mindset falls in attitude for both sides. People tend to treat people with disabilities differently, however, you should treat them as you would treat anyone else. The attitude is difficult to solve online, so we conduct offline activities through workshops and face to face discussions. Generally, people are open to engaging in these discussions.
Are businesses/employers generally willing to employ people with disabilities?
Generally, people want to offer jobs to people with disabilities. However, companies who have the passion to give the opportunity does not have the channel to communicate with people with disabilities.
What is Handican’s vision? What would you like to achieve in the next 5 to 10 years?
Handican’s vision is to help people with disabilities to get the right job to enhance their life. Currently, we are focused on helping people with disabilities to get employed, but we want to include features of education, sport and maybe transportation in the future, in order to create a better community for people with disabilities. To engage people with disabilities in our society we must make the system more suitable for them so they can live within the same society. So, in the next 5-10 years we will work to create suitable communities for people with disabilities. We began with employment because we saw that employment is a very clear problem because having a job can enhance the quality of life, while also allowing them to see the value in themselves, but there are many things that are also important. In the next few years, we hope to expand to other regions in Asia. In Thailand, we hope to launch the platform soon.
What steps have you taken to ensure that Handican’s vision is sustainable and that you leave no one with a disability behind?
Handican is a platform for employment but what we mentioned during the Youth Colab is that we want to focus on people with disabilities who have the skills so once they have a job they will be able to inspire others to get the skill to improve themselves. Only then will other people with disabilities improve themselves to be ready to find jobs, this will create a cycle. Handican is not just for people with disabilities with skills to find jobs but to help other people with disabilities to get the skills as well. And to get to that point we need to get the people with disabilities to inspire others, that is our sustainable model. Only 20-30 percent of the population of people with disabilities have the skills, so we want them to inspire others through which the system will be sustainable. It will not be easy but we believe that this system can be built.
We have reached 400 people through our Facebook page and the offline community, which is not very much, but we are trying to reach more in Bangkok and the surrounding area. Four hundred people is a small group but they are helping us to improve our products.
For now we will help those we have reached to get employed as much as possible. Normally communities of people with disabilities help each other, so once we help a part of them it will spread through their network. We want everyone to be able to access the platform so that we don’t leave anyone behind.
What are some features of the platform?
There is a matching feature on the platform which requires both the employer and people with disabilities to fill out separate forms. The platform will match people with disabilities with employers. Once matched, the platform will show how good of a match the employer is with the employee as a percentage. Another function we created is that the employer can search for people with disabilities. We also have notifications through email and through the website. Every time they get invited or get accepted they can get notified. Next month we will have a content section of successful stories and interesting information. We also have the activities and news section that will provide suitable information and news for employment seekers.
Attitude: How do you change the social and work culture to be more accepting of people with disabilities?
Change in attitude for both employers and people with disabilities can only happen through the successful employment of people with disabilities. No one will trust our statements about whether someone is fit to work or not. What we can do is to give people with disabilities the opportunity to get employed and prove to themselves, their community and their employers. This will change people’s mindsets about people with disabilities and how they treat them for the better.
For now, we will push those who are already ready to get employed and once they are successful they will inspire others. We welcome anyone who gets inspired and want to be employed.
The biggest gain people with disabilities get from working is to be treated the same and to feel valued and needed by society.
Ability: What kind of jobs are available for people with disabilities? How can we change the mindset of employers to value the skills that people with disabilities have? Which industry do you find most difficult in helping people with disabilities to be employed in?
Currently, there are basic information communications jobs like call centers that are available for people with disabilities. We are looking into designing jobs to be suitable for people with disabilities.
People with disabilities can be employed in almost every industry. However, they are not allowed to work in some industry because of some legal issues. The work that is available depends on how the job is designed to fit the various disabilities. For instance, a case study in America shows how autistic people are hired to wash cars because they can do a better job due to their repeated behaviour.
The 400 people that we are targeting first have physical (the most), visual and hearing impairments. We will help them to get employed so if they are successful they will inspire the other 400,000 people with disabilities. The main skill sets that we are trying to connect them to is in communications.
If people with disabilities show their abilities through employment opportunities, employers will see this and change their attitude towards employment of people with disabilities.
Accessibility: How can we encourage employers to improve their building designs to be more accessible for people with disabilities? Is there a guideline for accessibility designs in Thailand?
If more people with disabilities are hired effectively and are successful, then it may lead to improved building designs. It is impossible for us to tell employers to improve their building designs. It is more of a long term change. Attitude, accessibility and ability improves as more people with disabilities are incorporated into the workplace, in the long run over five to ten years.
There is no current guideline as to what is considered an accessible environment in Thailand. In the future we would like to partner with a consultant to create this guideline.
In the short run, we can partner with transport companies like Grab and provide a promo code for people with disabilities to improve transport accessibility. The Handican platform can also provide location specific job searches and use applications like google map to help people with disabilities to calculate their commute.
What advice would you give to newly developing social innovation businesses targeting people with disabilities?
If they have the passion to help people with disabilities, then we should all work together in partnerships and not as competitors.
What is the management plan of the Handican team? What kind of people are you looking to recruit to Handican?
The 8 of us will continue together but we would like more to join us in our four teams: Product development, Digital marketing, Event Organizing, and User research. Involving more people means more ideas and energy for research and development. We would like people who have the passion, empathy and who can work in a fast environment. We would also love to have people with disabilities to join the team and work with us.
How do you feel about where you are with Handican?
At this point we are in the research and development phase. We are energised to do this project because we feel that we have found a real market. When we divide the work, we start with motivation. We base each team members’ motivation and personality so that the task matches their personality which leads to quality work. Choose what you want to do, not what to do. We are all friends so we don’t give orders but we talk about the ideas about what everyone wants to experience and learn more about. We all pick what we love to do. We are happy where we are.
As a mentor (Khun Massimo) who has seen the Handican team grow, how do you feel about Handican?
As a teacher, I am definitely proud and they know about this. This is the first time that our students have implemented something and one of the main motivator was the Youth Colab. I try to link the academic course to real-life opportunities. I think there is a challenge for the students because they are students and entrepreneurs at the same time while doing internships as well, so triple challenge. But I am very optimistic I think this is a strong team based on friendship.