For over 20 years in Malaysia, both the Government and NGOs have implemented various programmes to empower PWD economically. These were meant to bolster PWD’s sense of usefulness to society as a form of therapy. In practice, many employers have taken advantage of the situation and have provided insufficient remuneration for work done to the tune of RM2.00 to RM5.00 a day. This hardly covers the cost of transport and meals, which are instead provided by parents or care-givers, government funding and donations.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of PWD (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol (A/RES/61/106) was signed and ratified by Malaysia in May 2008. The Convention is intended to change the general misconception of viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity but rather as “subjects” with rights. PWD should have the right to make decisions based on their free and informed consent while being active members of society. The wide spectrum of PWD are entitled to gain from the provisions of the CRPD.
In accordance with the ratification, Malaysia will gradually discontinue the old approach of providing special facilities for PWD. This is due to the systematic deprivation of academic and/or vocational education to PWD. Now a more inclusive approach will be implemented to for PWD to access open employment on the same level as the general populace.
Economic Empowerment Programme in Malaysia
The EEP in its current form has been carried out by YBhg. Datin Paduka Khatijah Sulieman, a philanthropist. Inspired by the success of the PWD in organisations such as the Leonard Cheshire Disability organisation in the U.K., she founded Rumah Amal Cheshire Selangor (RACS) in 1963 to be a home for PWD.
In 2007, Datin Paduka Khatijah planned and executed her first training programme for persons with learning disabilities, in information and communication technology (ICT), bakery, handicraft, hospitality, and horticulture. She has also been instrumental in facilitating a management audit and improving upon the structure, delivery and monitoring of the programme.
For the organisation embarking upon a new PWD, one must consider the facilities available, finding the trainers and most importantly, the type of job opportunities in the surrounding community. Providing training for types of work previously deemed out-of-reach of the PWD is also necessary in order to make them more employable. Currently, many Community Rehabilitation Centres and NGOs are involved in training PWD in small industries such as baking, laundry, handicrafts, etc. In such a scenario, unless the product is outstanding and can attract higher-paying customers, the target of financial independence may be difficult to achieve. Therefore, training should be provided for a more wide-ranging variety of jobs.
A job coach is critical in ensuring sustainability for an employed PWD, especially in the open market. Regular monitoring and maintaining a close relationship with employers and colleagues will enable early intervention of any problems or challenges faced by either the PWD or the employers in the workplace. The PWD should feel comfortable with the environment, happy to be employed and able to build a healthy relationship with supervisors, employers and co-workers.
PWD are taught to be independently mobile by using public transport, and are encouraged to live in group homes. RACS has shown a good example of the full support given to their graduates not just through their job coaches and the formation of their advocacy club ‘The Young Voices’, but also through the provision of basic group home needs and the inclusion of parental support groups.
The job coach’s challenge is to provide personal attention to the individual needs of the PWD according to their cognitive ability, changes in external factors, and their reaction to these changes, which can be extremely dynamic. For example, he or she may have to instill confidence in an employer who has had no prior experience working with PWD. If the working location is far from the PWD’s home, the issues of time, transport and personal safety will need to be addressed. The job coach may have to intervene in workplace disputes to address any prejudices or underlying tensions from the PWD’s colleagues. Employers who employ PWD also are unable to absorb more than a certain number at any one time.