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August 12, 2020

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It’s a tough job market — more so for those with mental disabilities

IN the shrinking employment market that emerged from novel coronavirus outbreak, it’s hard for many graduates to find jobs. But that prospect is even more daunting for the mentally disabled.

There are currently an estimated 10,000 mentally handicapped people of work­ing age and ability in Shanghai, said Chen Dongyuan, head of education and employment at the Shanghai Disabled Per­sons’ Federation.

People with intellectual dis­abilities have an easier time finding a job than those with psychiatric disorders because they tend to be more accepted by society, he said. Some can find jobs by themselves; oth­ers turn to the federation.

“For those with mild symptoms, we recommend ap­propriate companies,” he said. “For those with more severe symptoms, we channel them to work at the federation’s Sunshine vocational training and employment centers.”

Thousands of young people with intellectual disabilities are now working in more than 100 Sunshine sites across Shanghai. There, they do simple manual work such as sewing and packaging, filling contracts from companies. They get paid and receive so­cial insurance benefits. Some may be lucky enough to “grad­uate” into more mainstream work.

Companies are reluctant to hire people with psychiatric disorders because many of them rely on drug therapies to get through the day, and they sometimes get out of control. Just a small number get part-time jobs, Chen said.

Autism sufferers tend to be caught in the middle because they are the most misunder­stood, he said.

“Employer often ask, ‘Are they just slow in learning or do they have psychiatric problems’?” Chen said. “Some experts tend to classify them in the group of psychiatric disorders, but we know they are different. Many of them are not aggressive. We want to see autism become a new classification of mental problems.”

Another stumbling block for autistic sufferers are parents who often won’t acknowledge their disabilities.

“That category of young people doesn’t have cer­tificates of disability,” Chen said. “Therefore, the federa­tion can’t help them. But on the plus side, employment opportunities are increasing as public awareness and ac­ceptance of autism grows.”

Businesses that hire the autistic, like Menggongfang in Pudong, prove that these special young people can do simple work very well, he added.

“Shanghai is developing faster than many other cities in China in this respect,” Chen said. “We are making progress here, step by step.”

The municipal government is helping the cause. It pro­vides subsidiaries and other incentives to companies that hire the disabled. Charity foundations and social orga­nizations are also offering helping hands.

“We don’t have the mature system of many overseas countries when it comes to the mentally disabled,” Chen said. “We need to continue to explore ways to make the situation better. The assis­tance of social organizations, foundations and individuals is making that possible.”

He added, “Support from the government still needs to improve. Additionally, we hope that companies might form into some kind of federa­tions to aid employment and training of the disabled.”

More opportunities urged

Pudong Special School, which educates the men­tally handicapped, is a place that gives the federation optimism.

“We have learned a lot from sister schools in Hong Kong and Taiwan, like em­ploying specialists to help the children learn trades,” says school headmistress Wang Ying. “They have pro­grams that strongly support employment.”

Her school now offers nine years of compulsory education and four years of vocational training, including gardening, coffee-making, car-washing and house-cleaning.

“We try to arrange in­ternships for almost every student,” said Yang Bin, a teacher at the school. “But the number of companies willing to offer internships is still limited. We need those oppor­tunities to be expanded.”

Students with mild intellec­tual disabilities are sometimes given the chance to work for companies like Disneyland and Starbucks, which provide special training and long-term job prospects.

“Basically, jobs in the servic­es industry are most suitable for our students,” Wang said. “They can be matched to work that fits their skills. With constant training and practice, they can become qualified employees. I am re­ally touched by the humanity of companies willing to hire the handicapped.”

“A society that makes room for the mentally handicapped is a society filled with mag­nanimity, understanding and respect,” Yang added.


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