A graduate of Virtualahan shares how the project gave her hope
For persons with disabilities, life can be challenging. They deal with various notions daily and are oftentimes faced with limited career opportunities and challenges of adapting to the workplace.
To help address these challenges, Virtualahan, Accenture Philippines, and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) teamed up to provide a Digital Skills Training Program to help persons with disabilities secure better work opportunities and enjoy a better quality of life.
Among the 563 graduates that Virtualahan assisted is Sarah Jael Cortez, a licensed psychometrician and chartered professional HR, who has an Orthopedic Disability and diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND). Coping with her disabilities was a struggle, especially in a country where mental health is still considered taboo and misunderstood by a lot of people.
Thanks to Virtualahan, Jael’s life changed for the better and she found a new perspective in life.
Jael has been living with an orthopedic disability since she was a child. It was something she grew up with. Twelve years ago, she was diagnosed with clinical depression and just recently Functional Neurological Disorder (FND).
“Among my other disabilities, being diagnosed with clinical depression, a psychosocial disability, was a struggle for me to accept. There’s always a stigma when it comes to mental health issues - especially when you need to take medication, see a psychiatrist, undergo counseling and therapy. People think you’re weak, and worse, crazy. Everyday became a struggle to become a functioning human being,” shared by Jael.
Jael persevered to finish her studies and find employment. She has been working in the corporate sector for almost a decade now. Despite having the need to work on her social skills due to her psychosocial disability, she enjoyed working in the human resource industry.
“I really struggled working in HR because I’m quite aloof, awkward around people, and I have strong antisocial traits. Thankfully, I was able to cope with building relationships because of the years and years of practice of trying to be warm and accepting’,” Jael said.
When the pandemic hit the country, work became challenging for Jael. Her work required her to report onsite. Reporting to the office amidst the high risk took a toll on both her physical and mental health. Thankfully, her husband who is also a person with disability (Hard of Hearing) and graduate of Virtualahan, convinced her to enroll in the training program.
Virtualahan is a pioneering technology social enterprise that equips persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged people with digital skills to work as remote staff to companies that need outsourced support. Its mission is to build the future of work where no one is left behind, transforming the labor system for disadvantaged people to thrive. Since 2017, the project has been assisting persons with disabilities as well as single mothers, and youth who belong to the NEET (not in Education, Employment, or Training) population.
“The skills you learn in Virtualahan are relevant to today’s digital age. The work opportunities in the freelance industry are unique in nature. Who would have thought that people can now have a career as social media managers or as graphic artists? Virtualahan helped open that possibility for people like us,” Jael shared.
When Jael applied in Virtualahan, she only declared her orthopedic disability. She was hesitant to share to people her psychosocial disability because of the stigma she could face for several years.
In addition to her two disabilities, Jael was also diagnosed with FND, a rare condition. Jael shared that her triggers may be psychological in nature, but the effects are both physical and neurological. She would experience seizures, black outs and even memory loss. There were even instances when her brain could no longer command her body that she even lost the ability to walk, move her arm, talk, or read.
“For several years I was hesitant to talk about my conditions out in the open because not a lot of people would understand what I was going through. Virtualahan paved the way to for me to accept myself, embrace my current realities and gave me the comfort and confidence to talk about my conditions,” said Jael.
Virtualahan’s training program is a combination of a five-week digital skills training, using a blended adult-learning approach, with three to six months of employment or entrepreneurship support depending on the track a graduate decides to take and based on availability of resources and qualifications. It also has well-being sessions that are conducted by in-house psychologists and mental health practitioners.
“The wellbeing sessions opened my heart to accept that it’s okay to not be okay. Virtualahan helped me to embrace myself and my disabilities. That’s the beauty of Virtualahan – I learned that to heal, we need both a strong support system and self-acceptance. I learned to embrace my realities, that I shouldn’t let my disabilities define my abilities. I can choose to be functional in life,” said Jael.
After graduating from the training in August 2020, Jael worked as a part-time Enrollment Officer in Virtualahan. In January 2021, she was promoted as the Vice-President for Human Resources of Virtualahan. She also works as a full-time recruitment manager for an international client where she applies all the skills she learned from the training.
Working in Virtualahan is a liberating experience for Jael. It helped her to empower and inspire her fellow persons with disabilities and other communities such as solo parents, out-of-school youth, and former drug dependents.
“Not allowing our disabilities to overcome our abilities is a great sign of strength. May our abilities outshine the limitations that we have. ‘People With Disabilities are also People Who Deliver,” said Jael.
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