Learning to Innovate, Innovating to Learn
For People with Intellectual Disabilities (PWIDs), including Ah Chuan, a MINDS client who turns 35 this year, being placed at work can be a daunting, unfamiliar, and potentially upsetting experience. That is why the SIA-MINDS Employment Development Centre (SMEDC) was established: to empower and prepare PWIDs for workspaces by strengthening their work and social skills in a structured and nurturing space, shaping them to be confident and independent individuals.
Through employment and vocational training programmes, SMEDC provides clients with opportunities and platforms to work on long-term and short-term projects, such as MINDS Bakers, MINDS Craft, or ad-hoc contract work with partner organisations. These projects allow clients to earn personal wages, and in some cases, seek long-term employment with partnered employers at PWID-friendly workplaces, where there is greater employee awareness of interacting with PWIDS and modified job accommodations.
Ah Chuan, whose innate artistic talents were identified when he first started his journey with MINDS 16 years ago, has since been a member of the MINDS Craft team where he receives art skills training and has been engaged to produce artworks for sale.
Miss Chiang Li Bing, a Training Officer (TO) at SMEDC, relates a story about how the multi-faceted training approach at SMEDC facilitated Ah Chuan’s learning to become more socially aware of the people around him and to be more responsible of his own actions.
Miss Chiang shares, “Ah Chuan is a non-verbal client, which means that it’s sometimes difficult for us to figure out his thoughts or next move. This can be a challenge for us when he, along with other clients, does not inform us prior to leaving his workstation to use the restroom, even after repeated reminders.”
To ensure that the clients’ safety is not compromised, the TOs began to brainstorm and experiment with different ways to address this challenge – from the use of toilet tags to encouraging the use of key word signs for communication. The situation improved, but there were a few clients who needed more help with this routine. Miss Chiang still remembers the day she and her team remedied this problem, when one of the TOs came up with the idea of installing a whiteboard with individual face magnets of all the clients at their workstation. To indicate their need to visit the restroom, the client would need to pick up their respective face magnet and place it on the empty toilet slot.
With the installation of the ‘toilet board’, Miss Chiang noticed a significant improvement within the clients, including Ah Chuan, who has noticeably spent less prolonged periods at the rest room. With a limited number of slots, the clients would have to be more mindful and considerate of their friends who might also need to use the restroom. This acts as a visual aid for the clients to encourage accountability, and also for them to be socially aware of others and their needs.
Using innovative strategies and tools, MINDS TOs facilitate learning for clients to effectively harness their interests and capabilities, while simultaneously help them find a sense of joy and fulfilment in their work. However, these are usually developed through a rigorous cycle of trial-and-error, as TOs must constantly experiment to find the most effective method for each client to learn.
Miss Chiang believes that it is possible for all PWIDs to be able to learn and apply daily living and work skills. All it takes is the patience and perseverance of the TOs to identify the appropriate teaching methodologies to cater to individual learning needs.
She shares with pride, “Over the years, not only has Ah Chuan gained independent living skills, but he has also learned to better express himself and has become happier with the friends he has made along the way.”
With the vision of empowering PWIDs like Ah Chuan to fully participate in society, our Employment Development Centres also provide life-long learning programmes to hone clients’ interpersonal relationships, functional academics, information technology, and behaviour and stress management. This includes Digital Literacy programmes and real-world acclimatisation learning journeys to future-proof PWIDs and prepare them for fuller social integration.
As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we would like to encourage a deeper understanding of people with intellectual disabilities and autism in the community, and how we can empower PWIDs to meaningfully integrate into and contribute to society.