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Microsoft, partners launch program to increase employability for PWDs in Asia Pacific

Ryan Gersava, a Davao-based medical technologist, experienced first hand what it is like to face discrimination because of a chronic medical condition.

In 2015, his job application was rejected thrice.

"I could not get hired as a medical technologist. So I just decided to hire myself," Gersava said during Wednesday's online launch of the Microsoft Enabler Program that seeks to increase the employment chances of persons with disabilities.

Gersava decided to put up Virtualahan, a social enterprise that enables PWDs to secure gainful employment by providing them with intensive digital skills and mentorship.

Virtualahan is now one of six non-profit organizations across five pilot countries where the Microsoft Enabler Program will be implemented.

Microsoft, partners launch program to increase employability for PWDs in Asia Pacific
Vivek Puthucode, Chief Partner Officer at Microsoft in Asia Pacific
"In today’s workplace, it is imperative that we include everyone, and accessibility is that vehicle to inclusion. It is a responsibility and an opportunity," said Vivek Puthucode, Chief Partner Officer at Microsoft in Asia Pacific.

"There are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it....Inclusive organizations outperform their peers and attract and keep top talent, and we have seen how inclusion drives innovation," he added.

Vivek cited a BPO study in 2018 which showed companies that adopted inclusive policies to include PWDs had 28 percent higher revenues and 30 percent better performance on economic profit.

A 2018 United Nations report also showed that promoting disability-inclusive employment can lead to a one to seven percent rise in gross domestic product in the Asia Pacific region through increased economic productivity. 

"Empowering PWDs by ensuring accessibility is extremely critical not just because it is the right thing to do but also because it makes good business sense to do so," Vivek said.

The Microsoft Enabler Program, which will pilot in South Korea, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand before expanding to the rest of the region by the end of 2020, highlights the company's commitment to ensure technological advances are inclusive by design.

Companies committed to the program will receive training from the non-profit organizations such as Virtualahan to become inclusive employers.

These businesses will, in turn, provide job shadowing, internships, mentoring and opportunities in tech jobs for PWDs.

Microsoft will provide the industry-required training in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, data engineering and programming.

These modules will provide crucial technology skills that are globally recognized and highly sought after especially amid the ongoing pandemic where working remotely has become part of the new normal.

For the employer partners, Microsoft will conduct workshops on inclusive design and assistive technologies enabled through artificial intelligence on Microsoft Azure. 

In the Philippines, among the employer-partners under the program are Cognizant Technology Solutions, Crayon, ePLDT, Nexus Tech, NTT Data and Wipro.

Data from the Department of Health showed there are at least 1.44 million PWD Filipinos, accounting for less than 2 percent of the total population. Close to 60 percent of the total number of PWDs in the country are between 15 to 64 years old, or well within the working age.

The data, however, is based on the 2010 population census, and stakeholders note that the official data is low because not all persons with disabilities have registered themselves.

Republic Act No. 10524 require government agencies to allot at least 1 percent of their regular and non-regular positions for PWDs. Private corporations, however, are only encouraged to do the same, and only for those that have at least 100 employees.

Microsoft, partners launch program to increase employability for PWDs in Asia Pacific

For Vivek, the ongoing pandemic and the resulting work-from-home setup has highlighted how PWDs, with the proper support, can bring so much more to the table.

“2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and when we look at the incredible number of businesses and governments who have pivoted to cloud with Microsoft in the region, tech roles and digital skills will be the backbone of the economic recovery every country. And one of the ways we can enable an inclusive recovery is by empowering every person and every business with technology skills,” he said.

Topics: Ryan Gersava , Microsoft Enabler Program , Virtualahan , Vivek Puthucode
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