PEOPLE with disabilities are no longer being sidelined in the job market.

They are now very visible as executives in various sectors like information technology, hospitality, and banking.

This year alone, 50 companies in the various sectors hired people with disabilities. These firms tapped into the Enhanced Open Door Fund, where these people are offered internships by firms under a funded apprenticeship programme, which may then result in them being hired.

One such firm is City Developments Limited (CDL). In September 2008, it began collaborating with the Asian Women's Welfare Association in its Teach Me Inc programme, to provide employment to people with disabilities.

Ms Sherine Toh, head of human resources at CDL, said the company initially hired two of them as interns for about six months. 'Subsequently we converted one of them into a permanent employment position. The same processes apply when it comes to hiring those with physical disabilities. There is no differentiation,' she said.

Mr Liew Chong Heng, 25, who has spinal muscular atrophy, was eventually hired as an internal audit officer and has been with CDL for two years.

He went through the Teach Me programme, which provides support services to the physically challenged to integrate them into the mainstream workforce. These people attend a four-month workshop that covers communication, personal effectiveness and work skills before they are placed at firms as interns.

Programme manager Tarin Ong, 35, said: 'We also help employers with integrating them at the workplace by conducting full-on workshops and lunchtime talks. We also perform accessibility audits to see if the infrastructure is friendly (to people with disabilities).'

Employers can be given up to S$100,000 by the Open Door Fund to implement job re-design and workplace modifications, as well as train people with disabilities. The fund came into effect in May 2007.

Set up by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and administered by the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), the fund encourages companies to look beyond a person's disabilities and recruit based on merit.

In October last year, it began helping firms take in apprentices. The firms then decide if they can be employed.

Said a spokesman for the SNEF: 'Most companies we engaged are not against the hiring of people with disabilities but they lack the knowledge of how to integrate them, or they may have certain stereotype assumptions of what they cannot do.

'We work with employers to highlight what they can do and sometimes do better than the able-bodied.'

He added that many employers who attended SNEF-run workshops on the issue went on to hire more people with disabilities. To date, 115 companies committed to hiring these people have tapped into the fund.

Madam Halimah Yacob, co-chairperson of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices, said this was real progress, and that it shows employers are beginning to look beyond disabilities to the contributions these workers can bring to their jobs.

'This is meritocracy at work and in this tight labour market, it is simple common sense for employers to do so,' she said. 'They make loyal employees as they appreciate the opportunities given to them.'