Economic Struggles Of People With Disabilities (PWD)

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only brought a wave of fear and paranoia, but also some unexpected challenges that we, as a society, were not quite yet ready to face. 

The demand for remote work is unavoidable as staying inside and maintaining social distance are some effective ways to combat the spread of the virus, but it cannot be denied that this situation has made things a lot more difficult for everyone, especially for disabled people or people with disabilities (PWD).

Disabled people are large minority groups, starved of services and mostly ignored by society, live in isolation, segregation, poverty, charity and even pity.  Disability includes blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation and mental illness[1].

It is not easy to be a person with disabilities to live within a society that still refuses to help ease their burden by catering to their needs. In fact, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 (PWDA) defines PWD as:

…those who suffer from long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, preventing their full and effective participation in society when faced with challenges[2]

According to the Department of Social Welfare (JKM), 497,390 persons with disabilities (PWD) were registered as of December 2018[3]. Of the total PWD, approximately 64% are male and 36% are female[4]. According to the 2020 Population and Housing Census, the actual total of PWD could reach up to 4.5 million, however, only a fraction of this population are registered[5].

Based on the Labour Force Participation rate, about 80% of the registered PWDs are within the working-age population (15-64 years old)[3]. This is an added advantage to Malaysia’s economy if they are given equal chance and opportunity to earn a living. The breakdown of PWDs as follows:

Support Given To PWD

Several Malaysian government ministries and agencies such as the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM), the Social Welfare Department (JKM) and the Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR) provide support and services to assist PWD[6].

MOHR specifically helps PWD gain employment through support in registration to obtain OKU status, job coaching, disability equality training (DET) and job placements.

Source: Malay News

In March 2021, the government agreed to increase the maximum salary eligibility limit for Disabled Workers Allowance from RM1,200 to RM1,500 a month and PWD are allowed to register their businesses under Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia for free[8]

There remains a social stigma attached to PWD and it becomes a hindrance for them to have a fair chance in the workforce.

Some of the constraints faced by OKUs include lack of support and motivation from family members, lack of confidence post-injury or disability, poor access in remote areas for rehabilitation, lack of transportation access to the workplace and education deficiency on rehabilitation potential. – Datuk Seri Dr Mohammed Azman Aziz, CEO, Socso[9]

Rough Career Journey

Source: Unsplash

It is harder for PWD to progress in their career due to prejudice and workplace discrimination. In some cases, employers would undermine them due to their impairments. Furthermore, most of them fear working because they feel as though they are not suitable for the job after looking through the job scope and requirements. 

I feel that instead of just specifying the type of pre-requisite/requirements that companies need such as “male, female, SPM (O-levels equivalent), Bachelors degree, etc, the advertisements should also spell out that they are inviting “people with disabilities” to join their companies. Otherwise, we feel marginalised and lack confidence to apply and respond to such advertisements. – A self employed boss from Kedah[10]

Most companies and businesses often prefer to hire non-disabled graduates because they believe that PWD will not be of great asset to their organizations[10]. To make matters worse, Covid-19 has resulted in the loss of jobs, and PWD are the last people on the list to get hired during these trying times.

Are They Paid Fairly? 

There have been reported cases of PWD being paid less than their colleagues despite having similar qualifications. However, there have also been instances where PWD feel that they are being overpaid because they only receive minimal workload, probably due to their disability. This situation causes not only pressure but also makes them feel insecure regarding their own capabilities. 

My salary is commensurate with my qualification because it is based on the structure by the government, but I feel my productivity at work is far below compared to the salary I receive. – A research officer from Penang[10]

It’s Hard To Get Around

Source: The Star

Many stories have been told by the PWD community about the trials and tribulations that PWD face simply because of the lack of disabled-friendly facilities.

There should be standardised amenities for all states in Malaysia and not only in more developed states such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. There are people with disabilities here who want to go out from their houses but are deterred by the unfriendly transportation system. – A clerk from Perlis[7]

What Can We Do To Help? 

Source: Project DON

PWD versus inclusivity and accessibility is a tiresome, neverending battle. Both the government as well as the members of the public are responsible in giving continuous support and help for PWD. For instance, provide better and more disabled-friendly facilities. 

Most if not all PWD just want to be treated the same as the non-disabled. Businesses are encouraged to hire PWD and treat them equally by matching their skills sets with the right jobs, pay them fair wages and give them equal opportunity to advance. 

It is also crucial to spread awareness and educate the public about PWD so that social stigmas and prejudices about them will be eliminated. The organisations below are dedicated to helping and supporting PWDs. Get in touch with them to learn more and help.

Source: Project DON

Project DON is a talent management agency that focuses specifically on helping persons with disabilities (PWDs) get opportunities to work as models or talents for advertising, promotional campaigns, and similar activities. They celebrate diversity and inclusivity and by putting faces of PWD on commercial items, it helps break the stigma and gives them a voice. 

Reach Independence & Sustainable Entrepreneurship (R.I.S.E.) is an economic empowerment programme designed to help PWDs increase their income and become financially independent. The program is funded by Maybank Foundation in collaboration with social enterprise People Systems Consultancy. Its highly structured capacity building program provides mentoring, training, support and knowledge and skill transfer resulting in businesses set up by PWD.

Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation (KDSF) provides critical early intervention programmes (EIP) for children with Down Syndrome from two months to six years old. One of the main objectives is to prepare the children so that they are ready for the Special Education in typical government schools. They also train teachers in special needs programmes, counsel families with children with Down Syndrome, and create public awareness about Down Syndrome through its quarterly newsletter. 

Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation of Malaysia (ADFM) conducts public education on awareness of brain health and early detection through media, public seminars, forums, talks, exhibitions and national event, have training courses on Care Skills (DCS) for caregivers and domestic helper, facilitates workshops for professional healthcare workers under continuous education training, provides practical training on care skills to nursing and medical students, researchers and social workers, and many more.

Malaysia Information Network for the Disabled (MIND) was set up for people with disabilities or PWD to provide information that could help them lead useful lives as Malaysians, while the country progressed toward becoming a developed nation as envisioned by our leaders.

Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) promotes mental health in the community, provides rehabilitative services for the mentally ill, and provides support to caregivers and family members of mentally ill persons.

National Autistic Society of Malaysia (NASOM) provides early intervention, assistance and advice to families of people with autism, and other programmes for children with Autism aged 0-17 years.

National Council for the Blind, Malaysia (NCBM) provides a platform for representatives from around the country to meet regularly to discuss all aspects of work, including education, employment, blindness prevention, advocacy etc, and gives financial assistance for implementing projects and the sponsoring of personnel to attend training and skills as well as to upgrade of courses.

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Suet, L. K., Ling T. T., & Lay, W. L. (2013) Unseen challenges, unheard voices, unspoken desires: experiences of employment by Malaysians with physical disabilities. Universiti Sains Malaysia. Link
  2. Sani, R. (2020). Handicapped and jobless. New Straits Times. Link
  3. Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat. (2018). Social Welfare Statistics 2018. Link.
  4. Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat. (2018). LAPORAN TAHUNAN MAJLIS KEBANGSAAN BAGI ORANG KURANG UPAYA (MKBOKU) TAHUN 2018. Link. 
  5. Yee Mun, Chin. (2021). Digital Training: Helping PWDs to RISE. The Edge. Link.
  6. MyGov – Online Service Delivery Portal. (n. d.). People with disabilities. Link
  7. Masango, S. (2018). Some of the challenges faced by disabled persons. Link
  8. Astro Awani. (2021). Maximum salary limit for disabled workers allowance increased to RM1,500 – Muhyiddin. Link
  9. Nur Haqikah Malik. (2019). Employment opportunities still low for people with disabilities, says Socso CEO. Malaysian Reserve. Link.
  10. Department of Social Welfare (JKM). (n. d.). HDRF Human Capital Report. Link

Written by: Aliesya Sofea

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