Learning Disability Not In The Way Of Earning One’s Keep

 

One Two Juice and Bake With Dignity pave the way for individuality of the learning disabled by encouraging them to work and earn.

Proving to us that the learning disabled could also lead an ordinary life on their own is Dignity and Services, the non-governmental organisation which campaigns for the social inclusion of Persons with Learning Disabilities (PwLD), via their employment programmes One Two Juice and Bake With Dignity.

Currently, the two successful social enterprises collectively provide more than 15 learning disabled members with the opportunity to earn their own money, paving the path for many more such job prospects to be replicated.

However, as we found out from the first part of our collaboration with Dignity & Services (DNS), this success was never in the original plan of DNS functioning as an advocacy agent for the rights of the PwLD. Nonetheless, the organisation has since grown naturally, from inculcating independent living skills in the learning disabled to actually enabling them to hold jobs in the real world away from the shelter of their guardians.

Helen Teh, the Executive Director of Dignity & Services.

We spoke to Helen Teh, the Executive Director of Dignity & Services to know more about the social enterprises and how much they help the members.

Which of the two businesses did DNS kick-start first?

Before Bake With Dignity, which happens to be a lot more known now, we started One Two Juice at Selangor Dredging Berhad (SDB) in 2011. It happened through a parent who came up with the idea after seeing what DNS does through our Options for Supported Living programme. We then approached SDB and they graciously accepted our idea as part of their CSR initiative, providing us with some funding to set up the stall, the equipment, and also a van. The juice stall is currently located at the courtyard of Wisma Selangor Dredging, so, it’s rent-free and also a self-sustaining model where we sell fresh fruit juice and employ seven learning disabled who also make deliveries to offices. Out of the 7, 2 are on a full-time basis with EPF and Socso while the rest of them are on a part-time basis.

The One Two Juice stall at Wisma Selangor Dredging. (Photo: Selangor Dredging Berhad)

How do you select the learning disabled members who get to work at One Two Juice?

The 7 PwLD who now work at One Two Juice are higher-functioning adults whom we have also trained on how to take public transport. The SDB location is very convenient. That is one of the factors we look into when picking locations of employment so that the learning disabled who are capable of taking public transportation could travel to work on their own without relying on family for pickup.

Before the job placement, all the training and life skills such as taking public transport – which is a community building skill – will be learnt by them in supported living. One of the criteria for a job placement is that they must have gone through our supported living. This allows them to get familiarised with day-to-day life, get to know how to communicate better, and to be prepared for the working life.

Photo: Selangor Dredging Berhad.

Another concern is for the support staff like us or the job coach to personally know the individuals, as each of them has unique behavioural traits that we have to manage. Some of them may be high-functioning PwLD but sometimes they will go missing in action. So we have to know who the person is and then deduce where they are likely to be based on the issue. We can only know this through our interaction with them in supported living.

At One Two Juice, with the 7 of them is the job coach and the mother of one of the staff whom we employ, so she works as a supervisor. We always need support staff with them to make sure that they run it correctly especially on a business model that deals with food.

Helen joined Dignity & Services in 2014 and has been with the new Bake With Dignity outlet since its inception.

Now, let’s talk about the more popular sister project. How did Bake With Dignity come about?

Bake With Dignity (BWD) is also an idea from a parent. At first, the parent was only baking very casually at home to train her own autistic son to develop his motor skills. DNS then adapted the idea thinking it could be a model we could explore. Seeing that the mother was already baking at home we thought why not she work together with us by teaching not just her son but also other special need young adults who could benefit from the skill.

Initially we used the kitchen space where we run the supported living for the baking. We never thought of turning it into a business then as we just wanted to equip our members with some baking skills so that they could be employable. But after we shared our baked goods with friends and family, we received great feedback from them and soon after we began selling our items in our small circles of connection. We only baked twice a week, every Monday and Friday and even that only if we had any orders. However, that changed soon after, when SDB supported our cause again by making bulk orders of our baked goods.

The bakery is located in Bandar Sunway, next to the Setia Jaya KTM and BRT stations.

How did BWD eventually move out of the supported living home and come to be here in Bangsar Sunway?

As time went by, we realised that this was a high-potential model that could be turned into a small scale social enterprise. That was when we started to look for a place, instead of sharing the kitchen space in the house because when we first started we had a very small oven but after we received the bulk order from SDB we had to invest on an industrial oven. The oven took up a lot of space in the kitchen and interrupted the members’ supported living programme as they didn’t have a normal home-setting type of kitchen for them to do their cooking and all that. So we have thought since we have been baking for 7 years already why don’t we move our baking out to a separate site.

That was when I joined Dignity & Services, in 2014. We found the place where are now after looking for a year. One of the criteria of picking this place is of course good visibility as we want the public to see us, secondly have easy access to public transportation and thirdly not too expensive on the rent. Although our bakery right now is not in a busy area to expect a lot of walk-ins, it is still convenient for our customers who can park right outside our door, pick up their order and leave within 15 minutes. Plus it’s close to a KTM station and a bus passes by as well.

Photo: Dignity & Services.

We moved in on October 2016 and officially launched the bakery on 14th January 2017. In between we renovated and furnished the place, mostly through sponsorships by companies and individuals, including the ovens, chillers and even the POS system. When we first moved in, we were very excited and baked a lot for the walk-in customers. However, after a while we realised this led to wastage due to our location and at the moment we only sell limited items at the front counter while everything else need to be pre-ordered by customers. Since we moved here, we’ve also expanded our offerings to include more savouries and meals, far from the cookies and cakes we were selling in the beginning.

The bakers that we employ here are PwLD who require a more sheltered environment to function as compared to those whom we hire at One Two Juice.

Is Bake With Dignity self-sustaining like One Two Juice?

At the moment BWD is not but we hope to change that soon. After going viral recently, we’ve received an overwhelming amount of response from the public. Now sometimes we work even on weekends until late at night. And we’re happy because that’s what we need. Yes, we do need to have a point where we stop as we can’t have our bakers working around the clock either. But what we need is not money but the opportunity to work and the money that comes with the order. Our ultimate goal is for our special skilled bakers to train their skills, and that’s why orders are very important.

For now what we want is for our order to be as consistent as they are now. Currently, we are hopeful and optimistic. We want customers to order from us for the quality of our food too. We don’t use any artificial colouring or MSG or other preservatives in our cooking. Everything is from original ingredients, including the colouring that comes from fresh fruits.

Interested in Dignity & Services and their creative employment programmes for the learning disabled? Watch out for the part 3 of our collaboration with DNS to learn how you could replicate these projects in your own home. Missed our part 1 with Helen? Read it here.

More information on Dignity and Services can be found on www.dignityandservices.org.

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Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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