Richard Kuppusamy, an architect by training, is Head of Digital Integration (APAC) at Lendlease, and President of the Disabled People’s Association in Singapore.
Despite being born with spina bifida, he has never let that define him. Read on to find out more about his experiences, how he overcomes challenges and turns negatives into positives, and what motivates him in his pursuit of aspirations.
Note: Responses have been edited for brevity.
We read about your first internship at Keppie in Glasgow and thought it was inspiring how you persevered to get to the interview despite its inaccessibility. What was that like?
The director of the firm had already seen my work during my university course and was keen to interview me, telling me they would if I could get into their office. It was in a 19th-century church with a spiral staircase and no lift. At that time, I was a wheelchair user and moved about using crutches. Instead of saying no, I decided to take my time and I made it – I was offered a job the next day and the office was willing to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate me. I turned out to be the first in my class to secure an internship and if I had decided to let the situation stop me from trying, I would have been in a very different place.
Have you faced other difficulties aside from ensuring a potential employer’s office is accessible during your job searches? If so, how did you overcome them?
To be honest, I approach job searches the same way anyone would – I look for roles that interest me and are aligned with my career direction. I don’t put too much effort into checking accessibility before applying for jobs, though I do make cursory checks on accessibility after. I’ve made some mistakes along the way with some offices being inaccessible and their struggling to interview me because of that. However, I use these situations to my advantage during interviews.
Most employers don’t want to deliberately discriminate and would be on the back foot at the interview if they are apologising for having to send staff to carry me in. While it also means there’s some work to be done on their equal opportunities policy if they can’t hire the best person for the job due to accessibility issues, it gives me a good point of negotiation.
I accept that this isn’t always possible, and many employers would rather not make an offer; but when you can, you should turn the negative into a positive that works for you.
What are some helpful ways your current employer Lendlease has done in response to your feedback and collaborate for changes that increase inclusivity and accessibility?
When we were moving to a new office location in 2017, I was involved in the design and layout to ensure that wheelchair access is considered to all the places I need to go. We take a proactive approach to this and there is never a point where we decline to make a reasonable adjustment.
We’ve added in lifts, ramps, and accessible toilets for all our construction site offices, and we apply the same standard of access across any function, meeting, or project I’m involved in – regardless of how frequently I might visit, whether it’s in Singapore or overseas. Because of this, I never need to hesitate over arrangements for flights or hotels for example, and it’s a very positive, proactive, and inclusive place to work at.
From your experience with so many great employers, what steps can employers take to help make the experience better for professionals with disabilities?
Have an equal opportunities or diversity and inclusion policy in place, and make sure you practice what you preach. A lot of barriers stem from social behaviour and not physical infrastructure.
Ensure that your business is culturally ready to accept diversity and believe in building careers and your business regardless of race, gender, religion, orientation, or disability. Social change in the workplace must be from the top and ingrained in the culture of the business.
To be an inclusive employer, don’t wait till you have an applicant with disabilities before you act. Get your house in order now and start making your office more inclusive. The next disabled person could be a uniquely talented individual or even a potential client and you might be missing out on an opportunity if you can’t engage with them.