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LAST_UPDATETue, 21 Nov 2017 4pm

Give PWDs A Chance, As They Have Untapped Potential And Great Loyalty As Employees

Today is World Day for Safety and Health at Work and in a few days, Malaysians join the rest of the world in celebrating Labour Day.

While the welfare of the millions of able-bodied workers around the world deserve our concern and care, let's also spare a thought for People With Disabilities (PWD) who also need to work and earn a living like the rest of us.

Rapid technological advancement mean greater access of jobs for this often neglected group of human resource, PWDs.

“We are living in an age where the mind, snot muscle, is the determining factor. Behind every robot and automation are humans to drive the dream,” International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan said when launching Microsoft Malaysia’s M-Powered last week, a portal dedicated to PWDs job sourcing.

“Inclusiveness is the keyword here. We are encouraging businesses to employ persons with disabilities,” he highlighted that only 0.26% of the civil service is represented by PWDs at present.

In honour of World Day for Safety and Health at Work today and the Deputy MITI Minister's call for companies to hire PWDs, Malaysian Digest takes a look at the current employment possibilities for PWDs on the local front.

“If It’s Difficult For Able-Bodied Individuals To Score A Job, Imagine How Far More Difficult It Is For The PWDs”

Pic: (L-R) Wan Alya Azri bt Wan Mohd Hanizan and Wan 'Ainaa Izyan bt Wan Mohd HanizanPic: (L-R) Wan Alya Azri bt Wan Mohd Hanizan and Wan 'Ainaa Izyan bt Wan Mohd Hanizan“Alya struggled in terms of fitting in or making friends as Alia was not able to speak properly or write properly up to a certain age – but she’s good at responding to a lot of basic conversational skills,” 24-year-old Wan 'Ainaa Izyan Wan Mohd Hanizan revealed to Malaysian Digest about the challenges faced by her sister in finding employment.

'Ainaa opined that employment opportunities for PWDs are gradually getting brighter, though it may not be as bright as one would hope as she shared her sister's journey.

“My sister, Alya, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome even before she was born as the symptoms were pretty clear whilst she was in the womb, especially the physical features.

“Alya had a bad cold when she was two years old and upon being warded in a hospital in Manchester, England, the doctor revealed that the blood was not flowing up to her left knee. The only option was to amputate as failure to do so will prevent blood circulation up to her thighs and other limbs.”

Despite growing up learning to crawl and walk with one leg, 'Ainaa highlighted children with Down Syndrome have weak limbs and motor skills – but noted that her 22-year-old sister is still considerably fortunate as she wasn’t required to undergo physiotherapy to strengthen her limbs.

“In primary and secondary school, Alya was enrolled in a special class in school that exists in certain public schools in Malaysia but segregate them as per their disabilities,” the doting sister shared.

She also shared the realities of the local employment scene which does not exactly tilt in favour of PWDs.

“Autism advocates have highlighted that the rate of employment and number of PWDs are not up to par as the number of PWDs in Malaysia is rapidly growing, yet the rate for employment is not growing at the same rate.

“So not everyone is fortunate to be employed or be part of the community, hence why plenty of social advocates and bodies are advocating for the PWD’s rights and opportunities to embark in a career,” she highlighted.

Pic: Alya is a child with double disability as she is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and had her right leg amputated when she was two years oldPic: Alya is a child with double disability as she is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and had her right leg amputated when she was two years old

'Ainaa pointed out that it’s difficult for PWDs to get a job because Malaysia itself is a developing nation; that indicates rapid growth in every industry regardless of economy, with certain level of expectations set forth by the organisation.

Therefore it’s understandable why some employers are (highly) selective of their employees to ensure their companies remain competitive.

“Look at it this way, if it’s difficult for able-bodied individuals to score a job, imagine how far more difficult it is for the PWDs.

“So I feel like the non-economic challenges and expectations have given PWDs less chance to prove their capabilities and deprive them of opportunities, as employers are more concerned with progress rather than allocating time to guide the PWDs.”

'Ainaa's own mother who is a social worker and one of the founders of Down Syndrome Association of Malaysia (PSDM), and she acknowledged that the exposure served as a wake-up call on how to handle PWDs.

She urged companies to be open to the possibilities and benefits of employing PWDs.

“Disabilities are not limitations; my definition of disability is requiring more time to grow, to learn, to get from point A to B. So if you do give them a chance or invest in them, do give PWDs more time and you will be surprise that they are able to deliver the required tasks,” she emphasised.

“Employers should want to exude progress, especially SMEs. Perhaps they can reach out to social bodies and get PWDs to volunteer or learn life skills with them, such as a laundrette operator teaching them how to fold clothes or operate the washing machines and so forth.”

As a parting reminder, she pointed out to employers that “you are helping yourself in developing potential employees that will contribute back to the organisation”.

“You Might Be Surprised To Find That These Special People Are Tremendously Loyal”

Pic: Malaysian Employer Federation Executive Director Datuk Shamsuddin BardanPic: Malaysian Employer Federation Executive Director Datuk Shamsuddin BardanWhile PWDs are willing to overcome obstacles to become productive citizens of our society, their success requires the cooperation of local employers to give them a chance.

Malaysian Digest reached out to the Executive Director of Malaysian Employee Federation Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan on the level of acceptance among local employers to accommodate PWDs employees.

“Some companies really go all out to assist PWDs to a point they see their disabilities as a plus point to want to employ them,” he revealed and added that some companies would go as far as learning sign languages to bridge the gap.

“For example, a car manufacturing company may engage with people with hearing disabilities to work in the stamping plant (for the metal stamping phase) as the noise will not be a problem for these individuals as the disability is used as a positive point.”

However, Bardan opined that the prevailing demand to employ PWDs can still be improved and highlighted how the public sector initially reserved at least 1% (or 150 to 160,000) of job for PWDs but that is not the reality as the number of registered PWDs is not up to par.

“Based on international standard, the statistics of employed PWDs should be between 5% and 6% in any economy, but in Malaysia even the number of registered PWDs is much lower,” he conveyed.

“This is partially due to the fact that our society has the tendency to shield their children with disabilities from the public, despite numerous initiatives being taken to encourage PWDs to embark in vocational education, providing monetary assistance and so forth.

“But the families of PWDs cannot solely be blamed as our society as a whole, is not open or fully accepting of PWDs.”

Acknowledging that employers will meet with challenges in employing PWDs as they are advised to provide the necessary facilities at the workplace for the PWDs, as such improvements will be needed which translate to more cash outflow that most companies tend to shy away.

“Despite the assistance and tax incentives provided by the government in terms of double tax deduction for the wages that we pay, most companies or organisations are not willing to cater to the needs of PWDs.

“However I think in the long run, employers ought to change their perception on PWDs as you might be surprised to find that these special people are tremendously loyal,” as he confessed that he has employed an individual with hearing and speech impairment, who has been in his office for more than 15 years.

Aside from employers providing necessary facilities, PWDs might also find it challenging to commute to the workplace as some offices might not be accessible via public transportation and will be deemed as a hindrance for PWDs on top of being costly.

“Speaking of public transportations, our public transportations are not as PWD friendly – especially for those who are wheelchair-bound – as we hoped compared to other developed nations,” Bardan lamented.

“Perhaps if society were more welcoming and friendly of PWDs, they will feel that they want to go out and contribute to the society.

“But aside from getting the PWDs to come into the office, perhaps the employers can opt for an unorthodox culture by bringing the work materials to the PWDs employees; in other words, employers should be more creative in terms of how they can employ PWDs.”

Similarly with 'Ainaa, Bardan called for companies to cooperate with PWD associations and learn as well as accumulate a better understanding on how to manage PWDs, especially in terms of dealing with their sensitivities.

“We’re all humans after all and PWDs have their fair share of shortcomings. But be that as it may, it doesn’t mean that PWDs are not able to diligently perform and deliver as well as their able-bodied counterparts.

“I don’t think PWDs are more prone to exploitation or abuse, but it doesn’t dismiss the possibility of them not being properly rewarded for their work or benefits are not being taken care of,” he warned.

As such, Bardan advised authorities to initiate more awareness on PWDs rights to prevent the possibility of PWDs being exploited aside from beefing up legal measures to ensure that their rights are not being deprived.

“Coming back to employment opportunities for PWDs, M-Powered is fairly new and this proves that in the long run, this can be used to help enhance the employment opportunities of the PWDs.

“This may help connect PWDs to potential employers and subsequently, subtly encouraging PWDs to want to go out and grab whatever available opportunity that awaits them,” he suggested.

Employing PWDs Gives Businesses A More Human Touch

Last year, Malaysian Digest reported on a humble Hawaiian-themed coffee shop called the Deaf in Business (DiB) Coffees of Hawaii, situated in Petaling Jaya where customers are greeted with a warm smile and sign languages, as the employees are deaf.

DiB is not the only business to have ventured into the noble deed as Starbucks Malaysia Bangsar branch in collaboration with The Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID), have hired disabled employees at their outlet in Bangsar Village II.

Malaysian Digest spoke with Sydney Quays, Managing Director of Starbucks Malaysia and Brunei and to-date, Starbucks Malaysia has hired a total of 13 employees with hearing disabilities as they believe that it is their role and responsibility to do good.

“On top of that, it is also a way for us to give back to the community where we do our business. PWDs are also part of our customers in many of our stores around Malaysia,” he shared.

“We felt really happy and proud because we’re not just providing a job to the PWDs, but a career opportunity to their community.

“As a matter of fact, one of our deaf partners has been promoted as a Shift Manager in Starbucks Signing Store, Bangsar Village II. We also have another four Deaf partners to be certified as coffee master in late May.”

Pic: Starbucks MalaysiaPic: Starbucks MalaysiaAsking him on the challenges that the brand have faced in employing PWDs, Sydney relayed that it took Starbucks some time to actually understand the culture and lifestyle of the Deaf community, however with the aid of a Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), they were able to cushioned the challenge.

“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback not only from the PWD community but also our customers, as they also started picking up sign language after visiting the store.

“Following their employment – with the support from related bodies and association – we’ve learnt a lot about diversity and unique skills in leadership and. We also get to provide opportunity for employees to learn and explore more about.”

Sydney opined that one should not just invest in monitoring, but also time and passion to understand the PWD’s culture when hiring PWDs.

“When we first started the Starbucks Signing Store project, we know that it is not just about CSR, but a sustainable commitment to provide career opportunity for the PWD community – a support from all cross functional team is the key success of this project.

“Understand the culture and lifestyle of PWD. Focus on their strength to fit business needs.”

Besides fast food franchises, supermarket chains have also reached out to PWDs with local media reporting that Giant operator GCH Retail (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd have employed 76 disabled staffs, with 46 of them employed in the Klang Valley.

The supermarket chain cited examples of PWDs being promoted to supervisory roles and their marked loyalty, some serving for over 20 years, The Star reports.

Pic: Giant operator GCH Retail (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd have employed 76 disabled staffsPic: Giant operator GCH Retail (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd have employed 76 disabled staffsWith doors being opened for PWDs in retail and F&B line, we can’t help but wonder what the opportunity is like in the corporate sector.

The Head of Human Resource at of one the country's premier Oil & Gas company shared his view with Malaysian Digest on condition of anonymity.

“Indeed PWDs should be blessed with employment opportunities. But as cruel as it may be, not all industry can accommodate to the needs of every PWDs as some disabilities might be extra challenging for a particular company to manage,” Rizal opined.

“The government has provided incentives for companies to hire and train PWDs as potential employees, but the question is: do we (the designated team) have the patience and skills required to help guide the PWDs?

“This reality then serves as a barrier for most corporations as such ambiguity can lead to unwelcomed risks, such as abuse, miscommunication and so forth.”

Although Rizal appeared pessimistic over employment opportunities for PWDs in the corporate industry, Rizal advised for internal employees to first be educated on PWD management – especially those in the Human Resource Department.

“I personally believe that once internal employees understand PWDs better, only then can the company move towards employing PWDs,” he concluded.

- Malaysian Digest