LAST_UPDATEMon, 18 Jun 2018 1pm

M’sians, Here’s How You Can Look At A Person Beyond Their Disability

When we hear the word ‘disability’, we often think of someone who lacks the ability of what society deems a normal person can do. However, this is a common misconception as reality does not make the gifted society automatically disabled.

UNICEF’s recent findings revealed that six in ten Malaysians surveyed lack knowledge about children with disabilities, which explains why they continue to face strong discrimination among society.

“Little research has been undertaken regarding children with disabilities in Malaysia. This study provides us with evidence that children with disabilities are too often hidden, discriminated and left out of society,” said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF representative in Malaysia.

She further regarded such stigma limits their rights-access to be a part of society – while urging society to break down our biggest barriers, “our hearts and minds.”

“With the obstacles removed, children with disabilities have the opportunity to develop and reach their full potential for everyone’s benefit,” she stressed.

But is it too late to eradicate the stigma against people with disabilities, and how can we do so? Malaysian Digest finds out.

Kaur with her son, Sri.Kaur with her son, Sri.

Parents Should Never Be Ashamed Of Their Child

Though she never deemed her mentally retarded 38-year-old son, Sri, a burden, Preto Kaur, 73, said he had unfortunately never experienced living a normal life.

Having a disabled child whilst financially restraint, the mother-of-six, admits some days the going does get pretty tough, and because of that, she was unable to send Sri to school which was located quite a distance from their home.

“I believe God gave me this child for a reason so I am nothing but grateful for Sri. He is the sole reason of the person I am today,” said Kaur lovingly.

In the beginning she admitted she lacked understanding in the disabled, until her child was born. And though it was initially difficult, she recounts being grateful for all the love and support that has been given to her by her family throughout the years.

“My children are my backbone and I am so grateful for their continuous help, be it financially or emotionally, as they are my support system in helping me raise their brother,” said the widow.

Speaking on behalf of Bethany Home in Perak, that aids disabled children in realising their potential and teaching them to live independently, Kaur who is currently a part-time worker there shared how being adaptable to Sri has even earned her the ‘Mother of The Year’ reward from the home.

Thanks to the home also, Sri is more independent now and even participates regularly in the annual Bethany Jogathon which is held in Kuala Lumpur.

However, Kaur recollected coming across parents who treat such homes as a dumping ground for their children, or simply a place where they can have a holiday away from them.

“The stigma today is the parents’ attitude towards their disabled child.

“I understand that it may not be easy to be a parent to any special child, whether you are financially rich or poor, but your commitment to your child is what matters,” she stressed.

Kaur who learned to be extra patient in deeply caring for her child, advises parents walking in her shoes, “Walk with them, enjoy the journey, treat their pain, and never give up,” she said, adding that there is always a silver lining beyond these challenges.

“Some parents today would give up, some wouldn’t, and some parents would just hire a maid. As for me, I couldn’t, so I had to be physically, mentally, and emotionally there for my son, as he and I both come to terms with his permanent condition.

“I won’t deny that it is a struggle but don’t give up. Never for one second be ashamed of your child,” said Kaur, pointing out how today’s parents tend to feel embarrassed with their circumstances.

“Don’t be ashamed. Expose them to the public and show to everyone that you have a special child,” said Kaur compassionately.

She also emphasises parents must see the potential in their disabled children's lives, never hold them back but allow them to explore it by sending them to schools where they will be trained on survival skills and entrusting them in social surroundings.

No Reason For A Disabled Person To Be Treated Abnormally

Malaysian Digest also had the pleasure of speaking with Zhariff Afandi, a man who resembles motivational speaker Nick Vujicic, whose positive experience of living and outlook on life has been an inspiration to many. At present, Zhariff is an advocate who founded The Zhariff Initiative, a consultancy to inspire people to move beyond their limitations.

Zhariff AfandiZhariff Afandi

Misjudged since primary school, Zhariff had proven his determination as he insisted on being admitted in mainstream schools as he demonstrated to the principle then how his disability is not in any way going to be a problem for him to study or attend school.

“I asked the principal why he wouldn’t let me in as after all, I could already read and write. I then took out my exercise book from my bag and I wrote his name and my name. I asked him again why he wouldn’t let me study there,” the 36-year-old shared.

While Zhariff never once doubted his abilities, growing up, his major challenges were facing people’s misjudgements.

“People tend to wonder about even the basic fundamentals in my life from how I eat and to how I write. Most times, it’s not such a bad thing when people take pity of my circumstances but what’s most draining is when people assume you are helpless and constantly dependent when maneuvering yourself in society,” he explained.

“Sometimes it frustrates me. Of course I give myself time to figure out how to do it biomechanically, so that shouldn’t let others hold me back due to my disabilities,” he adds.

One of his most agonising experiences, Zhariff recalls, was at a Singapore theme park, where he was told straight up that he couldn’t go on the ride because he doesn’t have hands.

Here in Malaysia, Zhariff believes the lack of knowledge, awareness and misconception about disability is the very reason why this gifted society is constantly shunned.

“A government official recently concluded that: ‘Society consists of two parts; one is normal and one is abnormal. That is why people with perfect bodies are called normal.’

“So how can we create an environment that allows and encourages children or people with disabilities to be part of this supposedly normal society?,” he questioned.

He proceeds to say the biggest problem here is the mindset on what disabilities are – which leads to people taking pity on those like him, and that attitude isn’t necessarily right either.

“At the end of the day, people are just a little bit different as far as their makeup is concerned. But as far as their rights are concerned, we all deserve our rights and this extends to everything from your transportation, having adequate facilities and amenities, or even inclusive facilities.

Zhariff and his mumZhariff and his mum

“You should never do or help someone because you kesian (pity) them but simply because it’s the right thing to do,” Zhariff asserted.

Zhariff credits his achievements today to his parents who were never really keen on putting him up in some special programmes, which he is entirely grateful for.

“My parents had brought me up in such a way where I prefer adapting myself to a situation rather than asking the situation to adapt to me to a certain degree,” he relayed, adding that has made him the strong and optimistic person that he is now.

Because of this, Zhariff who grew up in such an enabling environment believes the perception about people with disabilities needs to change, and society needs to accept them without any prejudice or exemption of them being “different”.

“Generally, we need to grow out of this sentiment if we want to call ourselves a cultured and progressive society,” said Zhariff sternly, highlighting a person’s state of disability should not be a reason for him or her to be treated so abnormally.

“The problem is not the person with the disability but it's really about whether his or her environment is enabling enough for him or her to achieve whatever he or she can achieve.

“I am a strong advocate in the idea that we all have a destiny to achieve and it’s a shame when there are some people with disabilities who are not fully exploring and testing their potential,” he conveyed.

Everyone Deserves A Fair Chance In Life

Proving to us that they can do just as much as we can, Malaysian Digest spoke with an employer who hires people with disabilities, nobly encouraging them to live as normally as possible.

Snapture Graphics familySnapture Graphics family

Owned by Elaine and Timothy, Snapture Graphics, a company that specialises in graphic design and printing in Kuching, Sarawak, employs people with disabilities, like the deaf and dumb, and aims to teach them soft and technical skills like how to make a photobook, business cards, and even something as simple as holding a penknife the right way.

Growing up alongside those with special needs, Timothy shared his exposure when he was younger made him empathetic to such circumstances that it made him want to give the disabled a chance at normalcy.

Sharing with us some of the challenges faced as an employer to the gifted society, Timothy said that at times, he wonders if they really understood him, as they often misinterpret our sign languages towards them and vice versa.

“We won’t deny that it does get frustrating but it just takes a lot of time and patience. The first couple of months is the toughest as we try to explain and teach them proper manners. Eventually, after a series of cat and dog episodes, the results flourished.

“Things that come natural for us like cleaning up after ourselves or following instructions are things that doesn’t come easy for them. However, we try our best to treat them like how we would treat any other employees.

“But knowing their condition, it is difficult to look past that. Tasks provided to each one of them has to be altered to suit their individualistic capabilities. We try to give each one of them equal tasks knowing that damages are most likely to occur at the early stage,” said Timothy, adding how they are also gradually trying to expand their employees' skills to areas such as conversing with customers.

To combat the alarming amount of ignorance among Malaysians regarding disability, Timothy compares it with the term “nobody is perfect” by questioning how if you are aware that one isn’t perfect, why can’t we then, as part of society, accept working alongside people with disabilities?

“We must give them an opportunity and then journey the experience with them. We will not only learn their unique language but it benefits our personal growth as well,” he added.

Based on observation, Timothy said that when candidates come for the job interview, they will evaluate their body language and expression when they see them.

“Sometimes it’s up to them as well as most of them are aware of their disabilities so their self-consciousness and insecurity levels are high. At the beginning, they are shy but once I told them I could do a little of sign language, they become more accepting because they now know someone outside of their world knows their language which makes them get comfortable easily.

“Currently, we have three staffs who are deaf; Derek, Nathan, and Leonie. They seem to enjoy their employment with us. We initially started with Derek only. A few months later, Nathan’s father learnt that Derek was working with us and had then approached us if we could let his son work with us. After much convincing, Nathan, a timid and shy boy, joined us,” he recounted.

Timothy pointed how this goes to show that parents can play a big role by being a child’s source of encouragement or the bridge between normalcy and their child’s disabilities.

“We learnt that parents to children with disabilities just need to take that leap of faith in their children’s skills and capabilities. They have to embrace the fact that their children may have certain limitations but they also have skills to learn which can be a tough process for some.

“Parents need to trust how their working environment will eventually mould their disabled children to be independent like any other children,” he said.

While from an employer’s standpoint, once they are made clear of the job scope, he believes in letting his workers work independently, nevertheless, sets strict deadlines.

“When they committed a mistake, they have to tell us themselves. We learnt that, like everyone else, people with disabilities are also desperate to let others know of their inner passion and capability in doing everything independently.

“It is up to people like us, who have to open our minds by looking past their disabilities and give them the opportunity,” declared the employer who is an advocate for this gifted society.

“Everyone, disabled or not, deserves a fair chance in life because in all given tasks, it is an opportunity for us all to explore our potentials in whatever environment it may be,” he concluded.

Learn To Adapt And Accept Differences

As for founder of Autism Cafe Project (ACP), Mohd Adli Yahya, who established his cafe located at the iM4u Sentral in Puchong, in 2016, he started his business with one prime objective: To secure the future independence of youths with autism.

“In our cafe, everything is built around them. The normal scenario if they were to work outside elsewhere, all equipment will probably be complicated to work with.

“However in ACP, we buy equipment that suits their capabilities. For example, if we were to use the normal method of frying a chicken, it will expose safety issues towards them. So we use an air fryer as it is user-friendly and has minimal risk,” the 52-year-old shared.

Adli whose teenage son, Muhammad Luqman Shariff, is autistic and works in the cafe, then highlighted what’s important is how one manages a disabled person’s abilities to suit their surroundings.

“If by chance, the individual is unable to speak, we will find something they would like. For example, one of our staffs loves water, so we then get him to wash the dishes. While another staff loves talking, so we get him to be the frontliner,” Adli clarified how it is a non-issue in getting disabled people to work.

“The key is to understand, adapt and be patient,” he added.

Society has a tendency to mollycoddle people with disabilities. In some cases, it might be necessary, however, most of the time it can lead to them growing into a dependent individual.

To change such mindset, Adli believes the public should see them in action, working to support themselves and expanding their social skills.

Additionally, he opined that the government should also make it compulsory for each huge organisation or corporation to hire people with disabilities.

“This is because once they are working, the public will then witness and have a better understanding towards their conditions,” he ended the interview on that note.

The world is never a competition between the disabled and the able-bodied, but oftentimes the latter are guilty of jumping to conclusions that they are the more deserving and blessed lot in this society.

Having said that, the next time you meet a disabled person, or rather a gifted individual, take a moment to really get to know them, give them a chance, and you might just be surprised by what you can learn from them.

-Malaysian Digest