By PRETHIBA ESVARY and SIAW MEI LI
The United Nations estimates that around 10% of the world’s population live with some form of disability. However, most economies, including our own, have yet to achieve a representative rate of employment for people with disabilities (PWDs). In Malaysia, data from 2015 states that out of the one million workers working in the public sector, only 3,741 (less than 0.4%) comprises PWDs.
Among the reasons that researchers have identified for the underrepresentation of PWDs in the workforce is a lack of awareness and access to information, both on the part of employers as well as PWDs.
The Social Welfare Department under the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development for instance, provides an allowance of RM300 to registered disabled workers earning less than RM 1,200 per month. In fact, those looking to be their own bosses can apply for a RM 2,700 launch grant available to PWDs looking to start up a small business.
More businesses would consider hiring PWDs if they also had the necessary support to understand and ensure this group’s well-being at work, whether in the form of training, facilities or flexible work arrangements.
For instance, many employers do not realise that the Malaysian government subsidises a system to train job coaches for employees with disabilities. Run in partnership with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), this initiative was launched in 2011 and new hires at fashion retailer Uniqlo were among the first beneficiaries of this subsidy in 2012.
Another example of a valuable resource for both employers and jobseekers with disabilities is the OKUjobs.com.my job portal. This website, which publishes job opportunities available to people with a wide range of physical and learning disabilities, is the joint creation of four entities: Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled, staff of JICA, SIFE (students in free entreprise) Tunku Abdul Rahman College and Say IT Sdn Bhd.
In recent years, various companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Malaysia have also made concerted efforts to provide both employment opportunities and the necessary workplace support to PWDs.
Workplaces that work for all
Upon noticing the high unemployment among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Gamuda’s managing director, Datuk Lin Yun Ling initiated “Project Differently-Abled (DA)” in 2013.
Set up to provide job opportunities for individuals with ASD, the programme serves as a platform for these employees to learn and grow in their career. Gamuda’s employees with ASD – whose ages span from 21 to 39 – work in various departments such as human resources, trading, contracts and commercials, and group finance. As of June this year, the company has 16 employees and two interns with ASD. Their roles range from clerical work to golf buggy maintenance, and from IT support and programming to environmental research.
These employees are assigned a buddy and supervisor who guides and coaches them. They may be provided templates to ease their work. Handbook, workshops and training are given to the other employees in Gamuda to educate them on how they can work better with their ASD colleagues.
Addressing unheard opportunities
This year saw Starbucks Malaysia opening the chain’s first ever coffee outlet in the world to employ hearing-impaired baristas.
Conscious of the underrepresentation of the deaf community in Malaysia, Starbucks collaborated with the Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID) to provide an avenue of employment for this community while at the same time raising the public’s awareness of their contributions.
The staff of the Bangsar Village II outlet comprises 10 deaf employees and three hearing employees. Two sign-language interpreters were engaged to recruit and train the deaf employees, and to teach sign language to the hearing employees.
Customers select what they want on a menu ticket and hand it to the barista, who then keys in the customer’s order. This is displayed on a point-of-sale dual screen. Customers later collect their order when their order number is displayed on a large screen above the pick-up counter.
Food for thought
In 2008, the Malaysian government devised a goal for civil services to allocate 1% of jobs to PWDs. Today, significant progress has been made but it is clear that the goal is not yet met. And that’s just the public sector.
Perhaps you and I can change that. One way is to help spread the word on disability-friendly employment opportunities through word of mouth and on our social media spaces. Another way is for us to advocate the allocation of relevant job opportunities for candidates with disabilities, whether as hiring decision-makers or as supportive colleagues.
While companies like these are setting benchmarks in engaging PWDs, it takes support from every one of us to build workplaces and communities that are conducive and provide access to all.