April 2021, Philippines – Participants of Microsoft’s Enabler Program are proving that with strong support and equal access to employment, Persons with Disabilities can contribute meaningfully to the Philippines’ economy and society.
The Microsoft Enabler Program was launched in September 2020 to pioneer disability inclusive workplaces across Asia-Pacific by removing the barriers for a more diverse workforce. A first of its kind globally, the program provides cloud & AI training for Persons with Disabilities, accessibility education for employer partners and inclusive hiring from non-profit organizations (NPOs) supporting Persons with Disabilities.
“There are 650 million Persons with Disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region alone, making accessibility and providing inclusive opportunities absolutely critical,” said Fides Ricasa, Microsoft Philippines Chief Partner Officer. “This is imperative to us as an organization, especially in the world we live in today. Access to digital skills and employment opportunities must be given to every community and individual as we look to rebuild our economies.”
In addition to trainings and resources, the program provides Tech Consult sessions that Persons with Disabilities can join to be connected to Microsoft volunteer technical subject matter experts to enhance their knowledge and skills.
Key to the Microsoft Enabler Program’s efforts in the Philippines is Microsoft’s partnership with local non-profit social enterprise, Virtualahan. They are a for-impact organization that provides trainings to commercial partners on how to become inclusive employers and pools potential candidates for vacancies within the organization.
“We envision for the Microsoft Enabler Program to change the employment landscape for Persons with Disabilities in the digital economy in the Asia-Pacific by serving as a sandbox for companies that are working hard to embrace disability inclusion in their respective organizations,” said Ryan Gersava, Founder and President of Virtualahan.
In the Philippines, the Microsoft Enabler Program has successfully provided full-time employment opportunities for three individuals: Ritchell Anne de Loyola, Zeus Exequiel Seth Oliveros and Jefferson Cortez.
Ten years ago, Ritchell Anne de Loyola was diagnosed with a chronic illness that resulted in a physical disability that forced her to step away from her career. “I could not walk, and I needed to use a wheelchair for several years.”
However, she was undeterred and went on to pursue online digital skills training through Virtualahan. This brought new life to her career, first as a bookkeeper then as a finance officer. Today, Ritchell works for Microsoft and is a Program Manager of the Microsoft Enabler Program, advocating for inclusivity for others like her who have disabilities.
“This program is driven by the same fundamental belief that allowed me to learn new skills and gave me the opportunity to join Microsoft. Through this, we are able to amplify our efforts and open doors for more persons with disabilities.” said de Loyola. “To be empowered, first of all, accept your condition and understand your limitations; then focus on your skills, abilities, and strengths to live up to your potential..”
Another successful placement through the Microsoft Enabler Program is Zeus Exequiel Seth Oliveros, who has an orthopedic condition that causes mobility dysfunctions. Zeus was hired by Cognizant Technology Solutions Philippines, a partner company, last year as a data analyst.
“Being exposed to the many challenges faced by Persons with Disabilities in the corporate world, one thing I applaud is how Cognizant embraced diversity and inclusion completely,” said Oliveros. According to Gersava, Zeus’s successful completion of his internship with Cognizant was due, in no small part, to how the company worked hard to position him for success, proving how essential it is for PWDs to have a robust support mechanism that enables them to thrive in their respective organizations.
Finally, Jefferson Cortez, who joined HCL Technologies earlier this month as an Accessibility Engineer. Jefferson is Hard-of-Hearing (HOH) and has been passionate about helping others with the same condition for over twenty years, as a professional sign language interpreter and conducting sensitivity trainings for communities and individuals on how to deal and communicate with the deaf or HOH. With HCL Technologies, he is able to expand his efforts even more, as he is involved in making sure their apps and solutions are accessible and inclusive to Persons with Disabilities.
“Building a culture of inclusion is when talents with a disability find a safe space in their respective workplaces that lead to the feeling of true belonging. It is being intentional in creating a mechanism that will break down barriers that may hinder their full and effective participation in the company on an equal basis with others,” said Gersava.
Currently, the Microsoft Enabler Program has eight commercial partners in the Philippines: Cognizant Technology Solutions, ePLDT, HCL Technologies, Nexus Tech, NTT Data, Wipro, Crayon and the newest addition, DDLS Philippines.
Microsoft aims to continuously grow this collection of commercial partners and non-profit organizations, in order to bring inclusive opportunities and digital skills to more Filipino Persons with Disabilities across the nation.
“Joining the Microsoft Enabler Program means future-proofing your community of Persons with Disability and your company. It guarantees access to employer partners that you can positively influence to create a steady pipeline for your talents with disability to find meaningful employment,” said Gersava.