MANILA, Philippines, 18 May 2023 — There are currently over 1 billion persons with disabilities in the world, with 690 million coming from the Asia Pacific region alone. In 2020, Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Enabler Program to focus on improving workplace inclusivity as well as the employability of persons with disabilities across the Asia Pacific region.
The program started as a pilot in five markets, with six nonprofit organizations, 14 employer partners, and a simple premise: collaborate with these nonprofit organizations to train persons with disabilities in cloud and technical skills, then connect these organizations to businesses hiring talent with cloud skills.
Today, the Microsoft Enabler Program covers nine countries across the region, 14 nonprofits, and 28 partner organizations. Throughout its three years in operation, the program has trained over 10,000 hiring managers, mentored 700 persons with disabilities, conducted more than 290 hours’ worth of training through 50 disability inclusive hiring workshops across Asia-Pacific, and enabled roles and internships for more than 400 persons with disabilities.
“In today’s workplace, it is imperative that we include everyone, and accessibility is the vehicle to inclusion. It is a responsibility and an opportunity. There are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it,” said Fides Ricasa, Microsoft Philippines Chief Partner Officer and Country Executive Sponsor for Diversity & Inclusion. “At the heart of the Microsoft Enabler Program is a comprehensive accessibility model that will ultimately improve inclusion of persons with disabilities across Asia Pacific for years to come.”
Creating impact and enabling inclusivity in the Philippines
In the Philippines, the Microsoft Enabler Program has helped over 350 persons with disabilities through the support of local partner organizations. Non-profit, for-impact organization Virtualahan plays a key role in the Microsoft Enabler Program’s success in the Philippines through its inclusivity trainings to the local commercial partners and pools potential candidates for vacancies within the organizations.
For the past three years, the Microsoft Enabler Program has successfully provided employment opportunities at eight partner organizations, namely: Cognizant Technology Solutions, Crayon, ePLDT, HCL Technologies, Lumify Group, Nexus Tech, NTT Data, and Wipro.
One of the program’s first partners, Cognizant is actively working with Microsoft and Virtualahan in driving their shared mission to support inclusion in tech. Since then, the information technology company has helped hundreds of participants across the globe, accomplished two batches of mentorship programs, and facilitated several webinars in partnership with Virtualahan.
These strategic partnerships with Cognizant and the seven other local partners play a key role in the Microsoft Enabler Program, and have provided employment and internship placements to over 40 persons with disabilities in the Philippines. Four program graduates, Jefferson Cortez of HCL Technologies, Cheryl Repal and Marvel Deuna of Lumify Group share their personal experiences, and how the program continues to enable disability diversity in the workplace.
Jefferson Cortez joined HCL Technologies at the start of 2021 as an Accessibility Engineer. Hard-of-Hearing, Jefferson has always advocated for disability inclusivity through his work as a professional sign language interpreter and a facilitator for sensitivity trainings. Now approaching his second year with HCL Technologies, he is involved in making sure their applications and solutions are accessible and inclusive to persons with disabilities. Jefferson is also an active participant in reviewing the accessibility of Microsoft programs, focusing on closed captions and sign language interpretation.
“The first step towards disability diversity companies need to take is to raise awareness within their own organization. From there, awareness will turn to openness and understanding, then to action,” explained Jefferson. “It is also important to have a support group within the company. When we are appreciated, respected, and heard, we not only boost productivity and morale, but loyalty to the company as well.”
A newer addition to the Microsoft Enabler Program’s roster of commercial partners, the Lumify Group was first exposed to the program during a disability sensitivity workshop hosted by Virtualahan back in 2021. After the workshop, Lumify Group immediately reached out to Virtualahan for possible candidates for its internship program. Since then, Lumify Group has had multiple successful placements through the Microsoft Enabler Program, most recently with two interns who were successfully onboarded as full-time employees.
Cheryl Repal met with an accident that led to the impairment of her lower extremities. Despite this, she was able to renew her confidence and gain new skills through the Microsoft Enabler Program.
“The Microsoft Enabler Program rekindled my drive to go beyond my constraints. Reading success stories about people with impairments is one thing; witnessing those tales firsthand is quite another,” said Cheryl, who now works with the Lumify Group as an Operations Executive. “After graduating in Virtualahan, I had doubts about disability inclusivity and PwD policies in Philippine companies, but Lumify challenged that belief when they hired me and trusted in my capacity to carry out the tasks assigned to me.”
Another success story is Marvel Deuna, who has been battling chronic kidney disease for over 11 years. Despite his challenging journey, Marvel was given an internship opportunity with the Lumify Group through the program, where he now works as a Sales Operation Executive.
“Having a disability due to a chronic disease has brought me so many hardships, so I am extremely blessed to have been part of the Microsoft Enabler Program. The program has truly revolutionized my existence by equipping me with the necessary expertise to become productive despite my disability,” said Marvel. “Lumify and the Microsoft Enabler Program serve as notable examples, as they continue to empower persons with disabilities and recognize the valuable contribution that we can make in the workplace.”
Moving forward, Microsoft aims to continuously grow the Microsoft Enabler Program and its 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 disabilities and your company,” said Pratima Amonkar, Microsoft Asia Pacific’s Lead for Digital Natives and Cloud & AI Business Growth Strategy, and Chair for D&I and Accessibility. “It provides access to employer partners that you can positively influence to create a steady pipeline for your talent with disability to find meaningful employment.”