'Inclusive Space' charity project places students with disabilities into work

Tian Shengjie
The project, initiated by City News Service, helps a special educational school and businesses cooperate on internships and subsequent employment.
Tian Shengjie

How long does it take for a person with cerebral palsy to learn to fold towels to the standards of a five-star hotel? The answer is two months.

During a one-year internship, 19-year-old student Yang Tianhao, who suffers cerebral palsy, practiced the skill over and over again and finally received a job offer this week from the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong.

"People with mental illness seldom gain recognition from employers," said He Ying, headmaster of the Huangpu District Special Education Vocational School. "Yang's success is beyond the imagination of everyone, including his teachers and parents."

Although some people are born with disadvantages, many are striving to help them achieve equality.

Last year, with the help of the "Inclusive Space" charity project, initiated by the City News Service, a government-supported news and service platform run by Shanghai Daily, the school and some businesses including the hotel cooperated on internships and employment. Yang is one of the beneficiaries.

'Inclusive Space' charity project places students with disabilities into work
Ma Xinyi / SHINE

Yang Tianhao folds towels with the help of a colleague in the laundry room of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong.

'Inclusive Space' charity project places students with disabilities into work
Ma Xinyi / SHINE

Christian Humbert, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong

"We treat everybody the same and celebrate diversity and equality," said Christian Humbert, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong.

He said since the hotel opened in 2010, it has employed several disabled workers. "They are not a burden. In contrast, these people, like Yang, with a positive attitude, have integrated into our team and help the entire environment."

Marriott International, the largest hotel chain in the world, has hired 1,202 people in China with disabilities. The company has collaborated with Shanghai Daily to be actively involved in its "iDEAL Cafe: Inclusive Space" charity project for almost two years. The project provides vocational training to students with autism, Down syndrome and other mental disabilities in an effort to ease their transition into the workforce and their societal integration.

So far, six of its hotels in Shanghai, including the Renaissance Shanghai Caohejing Hotel and the Shanghai Marriott Marquis City Centre, have provided vocational training to 10 students.

"Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is an important part of Marriott International's commitment to People First culture," said Regan Taikitsadaporn, chief human resources officer of Marriott International, China. "We are committed to working with our partners to help more people realize their full potential."

"I am influenced by his smile," Humbert said. The general manager is not the only person impressed by the charming young man.

Yang works for eight hours a day, standing in the laundry room where the temperature is above 30 degree Celsius. Heatwaves roll from the washing and ironing machines, and the roar of the engines reverberates in the workplace. Although the hotel has electric fans to cool the employees, beads of sweat cover Yang's forehead after a while.

"I feel tired but my mom told me to persevere because everyone works hard," Yang said. "I know I can.

"I like this job," he added.

Yang got the job, which he can do independently, after trying many positions in the hotel during his internship, such as a room cleaner and a kitchen assistant.

To keep him practicing, his mother Zhu Hong also encouraged him to fold bed sheets or pillowcases at home.

"When he notices that he can accomplish something by himself, his confidence improves," she said.

'Inclusive Space' charity project places students with disabilities into work
Ti Gong

Yang Tianhao celebrates his graduation day at the Huangpu District Special Education Vocational School.

Yang's achievements pleasantly surprised his trainer Eddie Yu, manager of the laundry room. "He is doing better now compared with the beginning," he said.

Yang is now skilled at categorizing and folding over 10 types of laundry, such as different colored scarves and aprons.

"We did not lower our standard," Yu said.

Headmaster He believes that encouragement is probably the best way to help her students become independent.

"I believe that every individual has potential energy. Through internships and routine matters such as encouraging them to pick things up by themselves, we hope they can learn self-reliance," He said.

Her idea is supported by many parents of teenagers with mental illness.

"Not everyone can accept them as much as their parents and teachers, " Yang's mother said. "After we pass away in the future, they need to face this world alone."

'Inclusive Space' charity project places students with disabilities into work
Ma Xinyi / SHINE

Eddie Yu, manager of the laundry room, pins a badge onto Yang Tianhao's uniform.

The facts prove that their ideas are right. Among 10 students who graduated from Huangpu District Special Education Vocational School this year, Yang and another student already got jobs.

The State Council reported in 2021 that there are over 85 million disabled people in China. In recent years, the government has attached greater importance to employment issues for people with disabilities.

In a plan released by the department, there will be one million new disabled employees from 2022 to 2024 across the country, based on policies, as well as increasing employment opportunities and training.

The headmaster acknowledged that there are few job opportunities available to people with mental illness at present.

"I hope to leverage the power of the media to enhance society's awareness of this special group and cooperate with more enterprises," He said.

She said teachers would continue to encourage the students to venture out and take part in a range of activities. The more people came into contact with them, the more they could understand them.

"People will see the positive energy that is shining from them, " He said.

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