Are All Members Of ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ Given Equal Access To Live Meaningful Lives? (PwDs)

The United Nation estimated that 15%[1] of the world’s population are disabled. In Malaysia, there are approximately 4.5 million[2] Persons with Disabilities (PwD) in Malaysia – yet, only half a million[3], which is a mere 11%, are registered with the Welfare Department (JKM) as OKUs. 

What about the remaining 4 million? Why are they not registered? It begs the question – are the PwD community given sufficient support and equal opportunity to lead meaningful lives?

‘Persons with Disabilities Act’ – Is It Really Effective?

In 2008, the Malaysian government approved the ‘Persons with Disabilities (PwD) Act’[4], with the goal to improve the lives of the PwD community. Initially heralded in as a progressive step forward, loopholes and poor reinforcement of the Act quickly left many wondering the extent to which PwD lives are improved, if at all. 

In a 2019 op-ed[5] for MalaysiaKini, a prominent advocacy group, the Harapan OKU Law Reform Group, backed by another 115 civil societies across Malaysia, branded the PwD Act as an administrative ‘toothless tiger’ that has failed to protect and uphold the rights of PwDs. 

Source: Malaysiakini

They called out several shortcomings, among which include: the lack of accountability to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the failure to legally stop discrimination on the grounds of disability under Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, the urgent need to broaden the definition of ‘disability’ for more accurate representation, and the need for an independent commission to monitor the implementation of the PwD Act. 

Without reforms, they declared, the PwD community will continue to be marginalised. It will then be impossible for the country to answer the call of its 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to ‘leave no one behind’. 

Education Denied?

While provisions[6] were made in the PWD Act (Section 28) for disabled students to not be excluded from the education system on the grounds of disability, equal access to education is still a faraway dream for many. 

Source: New Straits Times

PwDs still find themselves rejected from high education institutions (IPT) simply because there is a lack of facilities to accommodate disabled students. Karishma*, a wheelchair-bound SPM student with an impressive score of 9As, found herself in such a predicament when she was denied entry to her desired university programme[7]

There are 20 public universities, 36 polytechnics and four public skills training institutions (in Malaysia), yet Karishma was only given the opportunity to apply for two diploma programmes and to community colleges because of her physical disability. – Thanasegar Ramasamy, representation of the Concerned UM Indian Graduates(CUMIG), on behalf of Karishma[7]

Source: BERNAMA (2021) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA, retrieved from The Borneo Post

Senator Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi, a representative of PwDs in the Senate, has also highlighted that there is little room for flexibility in learning processes. Rigid examination and assessment policies, for example, might not allocate enough time for disabled students to complete their work on time. All these add up, making success an uphill battle for equally capable PwDs. 

I’ve repeatedly told PwDs that we are not the cause of these weaknesses, but there is a lack of facilities and support around us that would help us live normal lives. – Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi, on educational inequalities within the PwD community[8].  

Employment Denied

In 2019, JKM reported that out of the 550,00 registered OKUs, only 50% (290,000) are within the working age population (19- 60 years old).

This exposes two stark realities of employment accessibility for the disabled community; 1) that they lack access to basic education or training in employable skills, and 2) that employers are unwilling to accept them into the workforce. 

Why is this so? A research  conducted by University Utara Malaysia reports that most employers don’t feel empowered to manage PwD employees due to the lack of established policies[9]. Complicated legislation drive unnecessary fears into employers, particularly that of being sued for discrimination. 

However, it is the perception that PwDs are less capable than their non-disabled peers that present the greatest stumbling block for PwDs to live meaningful lives. Not hiring PwDs will actually put employers at a great loss as the disabled community represents a huge pool of untapped talent. Tech leaders like Microsoft[10] has long recognised the business leverage that PwDs can bring, and is ‘doubling down’ on making the hiring process more inclusive.  

How Can We Help

As members of ‘Keluarga Malaysia’, here are some practical suggestions on how we can support our PwD community: 

  • Parents, encourage respect towards the PwD community in your homes. Expose your family to the work of organisations that supports PwDs to teach young ones that everyone deserves dignity and respect. Also, register your disabled child with the Welfare Department (JKM), to receive the support needed.  
  • Employers, honour the 1% PwD employee quota mandated by the Labour Department. Create an inclusive work environment with more job opportunities, and invest in making your infrastructures more accessible to PwDs.
  • Corporate partnerships with organisations that support PwDs is a fantastic way to bridge the ‘disability information gap’ – both employers and employees would be able to experience first-hand the difference that they can make in PwD’s lives. 
  • Educators, improve the visibility of your disabled students by giving them more opportunities to contribute in the classroom[11]. Make effort to understand the needs of your students, and ensure that classrooms are inclusive enough to encourage all students to learn. The ultimate focus should be on each child’s ability to learn, and not their disability. 
  • Finally, changemakers, ensure that your voices are heard by organising targeted awareness campaigns. Go on the field and speak with PwDs to understand their needs. Seek support and commitment from local constituencies by urging them to take action. Be vocal about discriminatory legislation, and don’t lose hope! 

Written by Emily Wong , edited by Wiki Impact Team

Explore Our Sources

  1. United Nations (2021). Disability and health. Link 
  2. Kwan, F. (2020). 2020 e-census lacks views from persons with disabilities. Free Malaysia Today . Link
  3. Human Resources Developmental Fund (2019). Human Capital Report. Link
  4.  Persons with Disabilities Act (2008). Link
  5. Harapan OKU Law Reform Group (2019). Leave no one with disabilities behind. Malaysiakini. Link
  6.  Human Resources Developmental Fund (2019). Human Capital Report. Link
  7. Nagotra, R. (2021). Student with 9As denied admission at varsity due to disability, group claims. Link
  8. Bernama (2021). Ensure students with disabilities have equal opportunities, rights. Bernama. Link
  9. Noor. A; Mohd Isa. M; Abd Manaf. A (2017). Employees with Disabilities: Malaysian Employers’ Reflections. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences. Link
  10. Aquino, S. (2021). Microsoft Announces ‘Doubling Down’ On Prioritizing Accessibility And Narrowing The Disability Gap. Forbes. Link
  11.  Karbowski, D.(2020). Inclusive Education Tips From an Inclusion Advocate. AdoptAClassroom.org. Link

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