Impact Story – Bridging the Psychological Divide between People with and without Disabilities: CareER Embraces the Role of “Companion” in an Inclusive Society

A young woman with physical disabilities showcased remarkable resilience and determination as she successfully transitioned from being a member of CareER to becoming a valued partner in a large company's Human Resources department. Despite facing the challenge of a low GPA resulting from a stroke during her teenage years, her unwavering efforts and a shift in mindset led her to secure an employment contract with a large corporation. Similarly, a female employee who got injured in a car accident received exceptional support from her company due to its belief in an inclusive workplace. The incident served as a catalyst for the company to establish an accessible office and actively hire talents with disabilities. These inspiring real-life stories, quietly circulating in the city, spotlight the latent brilliance in minority talents often overshadowed by the majority.

CareER, a Hong Kong-based charitable organization, is dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN) possessing tertiary education qualifications. Their diverse range of services, including peer support networks, job skills training, job matching, and alumni experience sharing activities, aim to assist members with disabilities/SEN in building self-acceptance and confidence, strengthening their resumes, securing employment, and seamlessly integrating into the workforce. With over a thousand members and an average of 120-180 new individuals joining each year, CareER strives to meet the job-seeking aspirations and needs of every member to the best of its ability.

In Hong Kong, despite a significant presence of students with disabilities and SEN in tertiary institutions, the challenge in employment compared to their peers persists. CareER plays a vital role in evaluating, training, guiding, and facilitating these students in their transition into the workforce. Similar to an alumni association, all CareER members may act as ‘alumni’ to exchange workplace experiences and personal insights on overcoming psychological barriers within this peer support network. CareER currently collaborates with nearly 300 employer partners spanning diverse industries, including finance, law, non-profit organizations, retail, education, social enterprises, real estate, and public relations.

CareER staff and volunteers at CareER Disability Inclusion Index Forum cum Inclusive Recruitment Fair 2023

"There is a prevalent social phenomenon where many local companies tend to view hiring individuals with disabilities as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility and poverty alleviation projects, rather than recognizing the inherent value and professional contributions they can bring. This simple categorization inadvertently creates invisible barriers. In contrast, multinational corporations are more willing to provide extensive resources and opportunities to support employees with physical and mental conditions according to their talent rather than disabilities, while local companies often exhibit more restraint." Walter Tsui, Co-Founder and CEO of CareER, highlighted this observation.

Amidst the global trend of Environmental, Social, and Governance transformation, many corporations find themselves lacking momentum in advancing the "social" aspect compared to "environment" and "governance" components. This gap highlights the necessity for ongoing community education efforts in diversity and inclusion, involving stakeholders from all levels in the broader community and society. Senior management leaders in particular, need to lead by example to eliminate bias and barriers in the workplace, thus creating an inclusive working environment for all employees. Other than actively advocating for talents with disabilities and SEN, CareER conducts research and draws insights from international experiences. This allows them to develop practical strategies and provide advisory services to corporations that share the same vision, as well as supporting local employers in their efforts to hire employees with special needs.

As a person with visual impairment, Walter's personal journey began with the fortunate experience of growing up in a highly open and inclusive family and school environment. Unlike other children with disabilities or SEN, Walter attended mainstream schools rather than special schools during his childhood. His family encouraged him to engage in sports and outdoor activities and interact with classmates just like any other children and teenagers of his age. This inclusive upbringing played a crucial role in nurturing Walter’s self-acceptance of his disability, while gaining a full understanding of his limitations. This foundation empowered him to confront and address challenges with confidence.

Co-Founder and CEO of CareER, Walter Tsui and His Guide Dog

After graduating from university, Walter’s first-hand work experience witnessing the significant challenges and psychological pressure faced by employees with disabilities at the workplace, fueled his commitment towards promoting disability inclusion for tertiary educated talents with disabilities. He ultimately left the business sector to co-found a charity to solve this deep-rooted societal issue.

“Disability inclusion should be a societal norm, not driven solely by sympathy. We believe both societal development and individual mindsets must co-evolve to treat talents with disabilities with a sense of normalcy. We wish to see a future where 'minority' groups no longer need to rally for their social status but can naturally coexist as equals," Walter said. 

This community is not a minority in terms of numbers. As of 2020, the number of individuals with disabilities in Hong Kong surpassed 530,000, accounting for 7.1% of the total population in Hong Kong.

In cultivating trust in our surroundings and recognizing each individual’s potential, we chart a path towards societal progress. This journey begins with acknowledging authentic personal experiences, understanding their impact, and ensuring equal opportunities for all. Trusting the synergy of diverse life forces and talent can lay a more robust foundation for social development.

In an era of uncertainty, trust is scarce yet a fundamental human need, transcending gender, age or physical and mental conditions. For individuals with disabilities, courage is a form of self-trust, a strong trust. Similarly, employers as key stakeholders in the social welfare system must demonstrate foundational trust in individual lives and the social system by hiring and supporting employees with diverse needs and abilities. Whether as individuals or businesses, actively engaging with diverse perspectives will gradually unveil the direction of change in our living environment. 

SIP has witnessed this remarkable, inspiring journey of CareER alongside many other heartwarming and uplifting real stories. These stories have reaffirmed our belief in social investment. We trust in the transformative power of every idea seeking positive change in society and therefore committed to providing comprehensive support and enabling truly impactful social initiatives, making a difference.

The article is prepared by LBS Communications Consulting Ltd.