These 8 startups in Southeast Asia empower people with disabilities to be active members of the community, one innovation at a time

According to the World Health Organization’s data, 15 per cent of the world’s population has a disability, which makes Southeast Asia carves a whopping number of 90 million people with disabilities.

The problem with the numbers is that to this day, many members of the disabled community still feel excluded from society. In Indonesia, for example, has become one of the leading countries in the region when it comes to disability inclusion, as the recently re-elected President Jokowi has put emphasis on a few times in his governance planning.

Quoted in Tempo, the near future plan that tries to include Indonesian people with disabilities is the launch of a systematic map for inclusive health service aimed at people with disabilities, targeted from next year to 2024. The map seeks to distribute the disability-friendly healthcare that is accessible, affordable, and empowering people with disability.

However, even with the planning at hand, it’s still not significant in really supporting those living with a disability.

One of the many ways to create a more inclusive society is by educating the public and facilitating the people living with disabilities to live in the state of normality. We’ve gone around the region and found eight startups that leverage their technology access and background to create inclusion and to provide it fast, faster than the government’s often delayed agenda.

Kerjabilitas, Indonesia

Kerjabilitas is a wordplay of “kerja” and “abilitas”, which means work and ability in English. In its interview with Gov Insider Asia, the startup described itself as “a digital startup working to create accessible job opportunities for people with disabilities”.

The startup was founded by Rubby Emir, who is the CEO of Kerjabilitas. He mentioned his own experience growing up with a sister who had learning difficulties as the inspiration behind the startup.

In 2014, the startup proposed the idea to Ciptamedia Selular, a Ford Foundation-funded programme for tech-based social projects and it ended up winning a prize and received a grant of US$52,000 to develop the initiative.

Kerjabilitas designs its platform to be compatible with screen readers in a way that allows visually impaired people to read the screen with a text-to-speech output. It also provides special icons and symbols which are easier to understand for people who have hearing impairments.

It also offers Disability Accessible Job Search feature where users can search for and apply to vacancies based on their type of disability and needs. It also caters to the skill building area by providing a feature called Career Online Course where people with disabilities can seek career advice via its blogs, e-books, and podcast series.

Kerjabilitas noted that the interest in recruiting people with disabilities in the workforce remains low. What it does is finding potential companies by looking at the type of jobs and the nature of the companies.

Parakerja, Indonesia

If Kerjabilitas is a job seeking a platform that champions empowerment for people with disabilities, Parakerja focusses on the job training and preparation.

Parakerja’s mission is to “help job seekers with disabilities overcome obstacles to become well-functioning workers in the professional world”.

The company’s platform was launched in June 2018, after starting as a traditional school for special needs students. It provides a vocational curriculum in areas like culinary, hospitality, entrepreneurship, and automotive.

Besides training, it also provides job seeker services such as certification, work placement, and consultation.

Recently, the company managed to claim the Judges’ Choice title in e27’s Echelon Asia Summit 2019.

Difalink, Indonesia

Previously known as Diffago, this Bali-based startup also focusses on facilitating people with disabilities access to jobs and better mobility.

It connects job seekers with disabilities to employers and assists employers from the beginning of the recruiting process until the end. What differs from the previous two is that it also helps people with disabilities to mobility aids providers.

In the interview with e27, Difalink’s founder Ni Komang Ayu Suriani, or Suri, shared about how people on the disabled spectrum are still overlooked in Indonesia. She decided to form Diffago in 2017 and run it full time since last year.

Initially, Diffago was meant to only provide people with disabilities the chance to get financial help through the crowdfunding system.

But then, it decided to pivot into an all-in-one solution platform, dedicated to helping people with disabilities according to what they need. The company did so after being a part of an incubator program called Rise Inc Unlimited with Instellar.

It now provides users with access to education by opening up individual crowdfunding, conducts training based on the highly needed skills, and helps people with disabilities to get a secure job. It leverages on companies’ Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) to fund the programme it has.

(these)abilities, Singapore

(these)abilities is a design and technology company that uses designing & building products to provide equal chances for people with disabilities at work, at home, and during play.

The company provides high and low tech products that are designed together with people with disabilities and with design thinking as well as community engagement put into account, targeted at the public.

Its main mission according to its website is to put an end to unequal life lived by people with disabilities by providing technology that is affordable and accessible, reintegration, involvement in effective problem solving, as well as humane education about the needs of people with disabilities.

The disciplines the startup covers are design, engineering, computer science, and community engagement.

Enabled, Singapore

Through its platform, Enabled Singapore provides disability inclusion education and consultancy to government bodies, educational institutions, and corporate companies.

The social enterprise is led by professionals with lived experience of disability, all together as a part of a global team with members in Australia and Germany.

As the website states, the company that was founded by Mano Karan believes that society needs to move on from the mentality that ‘disability’ is a hand me out or charity case into a social and economy-driven society.

Embodied Sensing, Singapore

Embodied Sensing Pte. Ltd. is another Singapore-based social enterprise that was established in 2014. As a product design firm, it specialises in inclusive/assistive technologies, wireless sensors, and IoT devices.

Embodied Sensing is known for its product called Knoctify, a smart notification device for the deaf that lights up whenever a visitor knocks on the door and can be put in a vibrate mode so it can notify people who are sleeping. It can also alert people of incoming messages on their phones.

Hapticus, Singapore

Focussing on the efficiency of transportation, Hapticus seeks to help people with disabilities by building a virtual transportation hub that caters to the navigation needs of people with special needs in major metropolitan areas.

The app helps drivers navigate to the correct address and inform the rider if they are delayed because of something like a traffic jam.

As a Singapore-based mobility solutions technology company, Hapticus’ system, comprises of a set of mobile and web applications, matches adequate transportation options with the specific user’s mobility needs.

Enablecode, Vietnam

A Vietnamese software company, Enablecode’s goal is to transform the Vietnamese perception of people with disabilities by employing computing experts who are not as physically able as the majority of society

Established in 2014, the Ho Chi Minh City-based company said that if specialises in complex custom web application development, and offers all aspects of innovative, creative, complex web design, including graphic layout, custom coding, advanced functionality, and SEO.

Also Read: This Bali-based startup wants to create a more inclusive life for people with disabilities

Quoting Emir, the founder of Kerjabilitas, in its Gov Insider Asa’s piece: “The biggest challenge is to increase the awareness of society since the knowledge and awareness of disability issues in Indonesia is still quite low. This results in the low number of vacancies available for people with disabilities.”

“Many of our existing partners still see this initiative as charity or as a channel for their own corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. They do not yet see this as business-as-usual because they have yet to consider people with disabilities as an asset for their companies, in the same way, they see their other employees. We feel that as a society, we still have a long way to go on this issue,” he added.

While these eight startups might be a small start to more included future for people with disabilities, all of them continue to carry the values and become a beacon of knowledge for society to be more accepting, and to the people living with disabilities, a hope for empowered future.

Photo by 张 学欢 on Unsplash

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