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Turning Disability into a National Asset

Part 1: Disabled People in Our Workforce

Can disabled persons be effective contributors to society instead of remaining on
welfare? The World Bank estimates (2000) that the total loss to the gross domestic
product of between US$1.37 trillion to US$1.94 trillion worldwide directly due to the
exclusion of disabled people from the mainstream of society. For Malaysia, the figures
are estimated at US$1.18-1.68 billion.

Malaysia is signatory to numerous conventions with regard to equal opportunities and

equal treatment for disabled persons, however, our Malaysian society has still not given
adequate thought to the productivity factor of disabled persons and as to whether they
can be gainfully employed. Disabled persons are often stereotyped into “welfare” cases
constantly in need of handouts instead of being seen as productive persons who can
also contribute to the economy. Persons with disabilities can also play an important role
as part of the nation’s workforce and contribute to society at large instead of being
viewed as unproductive welfare cases. Hence, helping pwds enter the workforce means
reducing the dependence on foreign labour as well as fulfilling their CSR (Corporate
Social Responsibility) for many companies.

Disabled people have the potential to make a valuable contribution in the workforce, as
employees, entrepreneurs or employers of others. Some employers have started to tap
this potential. Many governments have introduced legislation, policies and programmes
to promote employment opportunities for job-seekers with disabilities, job retention by
people who acquire a disability while in employment, and return to work by those who
have left their jobs due to their disability. But many disabled people who are willing and
able to work remain unemployed – as many as 80 % in some countries.

Frequently, this unemployment is because employers assume that people with

disabilities are unable to work and are unwilling to give them the opportunity to do so.
Often, it is because these people have not had access to education or training in
employable skills, or because the support services they require are not available, or
because of unsupportive legislation and policies. Many a times, it is because
handicapping environments or transportation which are inaccessible to them.

These and other obstacles stand in the way of disabled people seeking jobs that will
enable them to earn their own living, support their families and contribute to the national
economy. The resulting loss is felt at every level, not only by disabled people themselves
and their families, but also by employers and the wider society.

Current Situation

The total of pwds registered a total of 220, 250 disabled persons in Malaysia at the end
of 2007. (Please refer Table 1.) However, it is estimated that there are many
unregistered disabled persons in Malaysia. According to the World Bank calculations
(using a factor of 9.9% disabled persons for High Human Development [HHD] countries),
Malaysia would have around 2,200,000 disabled persons in 2000. Since there is a lack
of data in Malaysia to verify such a high figure, an estimate of 1% is usually used by
local authorities lowering the figure to 220,000 disabled persons. However, current

Government estimates puts it at about 1.3 million people with various forms of disability.
This means that only about 2% are registered.

Selangor tops the list with 13.15% followed by Johor (12.51%) and Perak (10.45%).


State 2005 2006 2007 %

Johor 21,232 24,228 27,554 12.51%
Kedah 11,577 13,963 15,224 6.91%
Kelantan 15,214 17,239 19,561 8.88%
Melaka 6,825 8,335 9,687 4.40%
Negeri Sembilan 7,910 8,964 10,149 4.61%
Pahang 6,468 7,784 8,496 3.86%
Perak 18,382 20,285 23,006 10.45%
Perlis 3,395 3,690 4,024 1.83%
Pulau Pinang 10,961 12,507 13,824 6.28%
Sabah 11,083 12,481 13,823 6.28%
Sarawak 10,549 11,920 13,289 6.03%
Selangor 22,332 25,624 28,969 13.15%
Terengganu 10,714 12,302 13,083 5.94%
W.P. Kuala Lumpur 15,831 17,729 19,060 8.65%
W.P.Labuan 443 468 501 0.23%
Total 172,916 197,519 220,250 100.00%

Source: State Social Welfare Department 2007


State Visually Hearing Physically Learning Cerebral

Others Total
Impaired Impaired Impaired Difficulty Palsy
Johor 1858 3658 7919 13342 148 629 27554
Kedah 1766 2198 5036 5600 4 620 15224
Kelantan 2167 3259 6578 4658 202 2697 19561
Melaka 515 1238 3017 4706 78 133 9687
727 1149 3748 4415 35 75 10149
Pahang 450 1070 3556 3130 47 243 8496
Perak 1836 2838 7920 9667 290 455 23006
Perlis 437 461 1479 1536 42 69 4024
1065 2073 5033 5395 92 166 13824

State Visually Hearing Physically Learning Cerebral
Others Total
Impaired Impaired Impaired Difficulty Palsy
Sabah 1507 2180 4345 4480 0 1311 13823
Sarawak 1522 2062 4247 4958 251 249 13289
Selangor 2152 4305 10149 11722 358 283 28969
Terengganu 1810 1971 4175 4728 69 330 13083
W.P. Kuala
2198 3180 6185 7265 157 75 19060
W.P.Labuan 29 73 172 210 14 3 501
Total 20039 31715 73559 85812 1787 7338 220250
% 9.10% 14.40% 33.40% 38.96% 0.81% 3.33% 100.00%
Source: State Social Welfare Department 2007

Out of those who are registered by the end of 2007, 39% have learning difficulties, 33%
are physically disabled and 14% are hearing impaired. The number of disabled persons
working in the public sector is only 87 up till April, 2008 according to the Public Services


2006 2007 2008
Service Group No. % No. % No. %
Management & Professional 12 15% 8 6% 3 3%
Support Group 68 85% 126 94% 87 97%
Total 80 100% 134 100% 90 100%
Source: Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (Public Services Department), 2008

It was reported that currently, that only a cumulative total of 581 pwds are working in the
public service and fewer than 5,000 in the private sector.


2005 2006 2007

State No. RM No. RM No. RM
Johor 836 1,764,300 1,127 2,704,800 1,412 3,388,800
Kedah 987 955,600 1,423 1,159,800 1,699 2,640,700
Kelantan 982 2,339,700 1,263 2,703,800 1,259 2,308,800
Melaka 501 841,900 670 1,375,800 889 2,114,250
Negeri Sembilan 552 1,324,800 729 1,616,000 875 1,844,350
Pahang 693 1,590,000 779 1,790,000 1,040 1,931,400
Perak 1,374 2,690,300 1,515 3,295,800 1,787 3,895,400
Perlis 208 499,200 253 547,400 330 598,200
Pulau Pinang 1,078 1,769,800 1,175 2,475,400 1,458 3,255,400
Sabah 82 60,800 143 343,200 167 376,200
Sarawak 284 322,900 358 506,600 348 485,400
Selangor 1,234 2,956,800 1,632 3,521,400 1,319 2,659,200
Terengganu 808 1,742,500 909 2,049,400 1,096 2,410,100
W.P. Kuala Lumpur 1,525 2,322,000 1,824 3,806,400 2,328 4,920,200

2005 2006 2007
State No. RM No. RM No. RM
W.P. Labuan 23 48,000 36 68,400 38 82,600
Total 11,167 21,228,600 13,836 27,964,200 16,045 32,911,000
Source: Social Welfare Department of Malaysia, 2007

At the end of 2007, a total of 16,045 disabled persons received the EPC Amounting to
RM32.9 million. The EPC is paid out to pwds working in both open employment and in
sheltered workshops throughout the country. W.P. Kuala Lumpur has the highest
number of pwds receiving the EPC. The EPC is paid out to pwds which have a monthly
salary lower than RM1,500.


JUNE 2009

1990 71 94 19 2 186
1991 117 166 63 3 349
1992 48 154 152 7 361
1993 113 184 249 31 577
1994 40 165 253 22 480
1995 79 122 269 30 500
1996 33 99 136 80 348
1997 22 196 181 30 429
1998 32 59 121 9 221
1999 24 81 138 10 253
2000 24 119 101 20 264
2001 36 153 272 43 504
2002 36 150 189 49 424
2003 83 125 222 34 464
2004 21 139 150 15 325
2005 7 240 166 69 482
2006 2 243 185 144 574
2007 0 75 153 44 272
2008 0 112 185 71 368
2009* (Till
0 25 41 35 101
June '09)
JUMLAH 788 2701 3245 748 7482

Source: Labour Department, Malaysia. 2009

According to data from the Labour Department, 7,482 disabled persons have been
successfully job placed from 1990 to June 2009. Comparing the data from the EPC table
and Labour Department list for the Year 2007 alone, it is implied that the 9,032 (16,045-
7013 pwds) disabled persons unaccounted for; are either working in sheltered
workshops, are not qualified for the EPC or did not apply for the EPC.

Government Service Circular No. 10/1998, stipulated that at least 1% of job
opportunities in the public sector is to be allocated to disabled persons. However, this
figure is still vey far from the targeted quota.

The Labour Department has tried to play its role in aiding disabled persons play an
active role in national development and expose disabled persons to the appropriate field
and type of jobs. A national committee to encourage the employment of disabled
persons by the private sector chaired by the Hon. Minister of Human Resources has
been established in 1990. Technical Committees to aid this have also been formed at
the national and state levels. The Ministry of Human Resource has also organized
symposiums, job fairs, and awards for outstanding disabled persons who have
succeeded in their careers. On 9 November 2001, the Ministry launched a Code Of
Practices for the Employment of Disabled Persons in the Private Sector. An insurance
scheme for disabled persons has also being formulated and the Ministry is also looking
into developing a databank for employment of disabled persons in the private sector.

The Ministry has set up the National Council for Persons with Disabilities chaired by its
minister, Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, to supervise, coordinate and monitor the national
policies relating to Persons With Disabilities Act gazetted Aug 7 2008.

There are also no accurate statistics available on the number of disabled persons that
are currently employed or placed throughout the country by the Labour Department.
However, we believe that disabled persons can make a valuable contribution to the
State if they are gainfully employed no matter what the real numbers are.

In Malaysia, some companies have started employing disabled persons in greater

numbers as they are proven to be loyal and productive. Some of the good examples are
retailers like Giant, Carrefour, food chains like KFC and MacDonalds; manufacturers like
Agilent Technologies, International Footwear Sdn. Bhd. and Pen Apparel Sdn. Bhd. and
others in different parts of Malaysia. There are also some architecture firms who employ
deaf persons as draughts persons, whilst some are self-employed eg. Batik painting,
food enterprises, reflexologists, masseurs and other types of employment.

Part 2: Barriers to Employment

Open employment for people with disabilities (pwds) is now the government’s current
initiative although this has been practised by some NGOs and DPOs as part of their
functions and services. This is now being given a special focus in Johor. Interviews with
employers of the disabled has shown that many disabled persons are employable and
do indeed positively contribute to their companies / organisation they work in. Employers
have also noted that some pwds excel in their work and no less productive than their
able-bodied counterparts. The majority of employers have no second thoughts about
offering jobs to pwds. They particularly find the visually impaired and hearing impaired
employees were able to learn fast and meet their goals. Disabled people are also more
obedient and conscientious in their work.

However, in order for individuals, disabled or not to obtain decent work, certain
conditions must exist.
• Workers need basic life, literacy and generic work skills, technical skills and
business skills in the case of the self-employed or entrepreneurs,

• The economy must create good jobs and self-employment opportunities,

• A vocational guidance/employment services system should be established

nationally to provide job coaches and create a process for guiding and matching
to the right job training and job opportunities,

• The infrastructure should include services conducive employment like

transportation, effective communication systems, and

• To ensure job retention and security, the workplace should promote appropriate
health and safety measures, access to lifelong learning opportunities and other
enlightened workplace practices.

The path to decent work is fraught with barriers for disabled persons. These barriers
include both physical, mental and policy barriers such as:

Mental Barriers
• Low self-esteem among disabled persons and overprotective families
• Negative attitudes arising from ignorance, myths, stereotypes and fear of
employing pwds on the employers part
• Acceptance by workplace colleagues,
• Prejudice on the disabled person’s productive ability

Physical Barriers
• Unequal access to education and training programs which includes lack of
inclusion in poverty alleviation, credit and business development schemes
• Inaccessible buildings and lack of infrastructure facilities at workplace,
• Reluctance of employers to provide facilities and infrastructure at workplace,
• Inaccessible transportation to and from the workplace,
• Lack of suitable housing near workplace,
• Lack of access to assistive devices, technology and support
• Barriers to Communication and Information Systems, such as the internet for
blind persons

Policy Barriers
• Lack of policy support including legislation
• Lack of enforcement of existing legislation and regulations
• Lack of databank for job seeking and matching purposes
• Lack of information resources explaining laws and regulations pertaining to the
employment of pwds
• No one-stop centre established by the Government to facilitate the open
employment of disabled persons except for the pilot project in Johor by UNDP-

Practical Measures to Overcome Barriers

In order to address the problems faced by disabled persons in achieving gainful
employment, some practical measures have to adopted based on the following aspects:
1. Legislation
2. Skills
3. Jobs
4. Vocational Guidance / employment services
5. Infrastructure and Environment
6. Follow-up action
7. Database

1. Legislation
In order for fuller attention and support to be given to disabled issues, there must be
adequate legislation in the country to support this. There is a need to re-enforce the
Memorandum on Employment of Disabled Persons that has been submitted to
Government in 2001 as well as the stricter enforcement of the Uniform Building By-laws
pertaining to accessibility of the built environment. It is also suggested that a “Senator”
Body be established to monitor and coordinate the enforcement of such by-laws and
code of practice. The National Consultative Committee for disabled persons should be
reactivated as a partner in the enforcement process. A special unit/body in every state in
Malaysia should be established to encourage and facilitate the open employment of
disabled persons. This unit must deal with all aspects of open employment and
systematically provide trained job coaches that aid pwds in preparation, placement,
follow-up, counseling, motivating and also act as resource and reference centres to both
employees and employers.

Japan has implemented the grants and levy system whereby organizations with above
301 regular employees but which do not fulfill their quota of employing disabled persons
are required to pay a levy of 50,000 yen (RM1,440) per person short to support other
employers who have fulfilled their quota. Hopefully, Malaysia can implement something

2. Skills
Prior to being placed into open employment, NGOs, government agencies and training
institutes dealing with pwds must first ensure that pwds are provided with opportunities
to learn independent living skills and skills that will enable them to interact with their
employers and colleagues in the workplace. This is a crucial part of pre-employment
preparation that will ensure that a correct attitude and good working habit is first
inculcated in the pwds themselves. Good working attitudes are promote comradeness
and respect from employers and fellow workers which will in turn ensure a longer
retention time for pwds workers.

Disabled persons must also possess the life and technical skills that are responsive to
the present job market situation and not stereotype traditional skills that have been
taught in segregated centres for years. Skills must reflect changing times from an
industrial to a k-economy that requires the ability to work in teams and are proficient IT.
Wherever possible, disabled persons must be included in mainstream programmes. A
database on skills required for the job (coping skills and job skills) for disabled persons
must be established and research carried out on the job market. The present curriculum
must be recognized by the National Occupational Safety Standards (NOSS) with a
possibility of link up with the National Information Technology Council (NITC).

3. Jobs
Jobs for disabled persons can be expanded in the formal sector through the use of new
techniques like supported employment, by implementing simple work adjustments and
modifying the physical environment. Certain jobs are deemed suitable for disabled
persons and there should be job quotas reserved for disabled persons for such jobs eg.
toll collection by physically disabled persons. However, there should be increased
flexibility in the provision of jobs and no categorization of jobs (stereotyping of different
categories of disabled persons with certain jobs only). Skills too must match job
specification and job placement officers for disabled persons must be able to seek out
appropriate jobs for disabled persons according to their skills.

Grants, subsidies and credits should also be provided to disabled persons who wish to
become entrepreneurs or work from home.

4. Vocational Guidance
Vocational guidance and employment services should include assessment, guidance
and referral to appropriate training programmes and active job placement. In view of this,
job placement officers must be trained in special skills needed to work with disabled
individuals (e.g. how to conduct job analysis, increase knowledge about work
adjustments and assistive devices and how to sign for deaf clients). More training
centers; both centralized and decentralized; should be set up for disabled persons.
There should also be unified standards in the curriculum of training schools. The
curriculum should also emphasize adaptability of disabled persons to different work

5. Infrastructure and Environment

Employment of persons with disabilities requires special considerations such as
improvement of workplace and equipment. Employers must be urged to comply with the
existing Uniform Building By-Laws to make their workplace accessible as well as provide
adequate facilities for disabled persons. In order to achieve this, awareness campaigns
regarding the UBBL must be carried out as many developers, building contractors,
architects and even government officers are still unaware or not well informed of the
requirements in the UBBL. Wherever possible, they must also
provide transportation facilities or accessible housing near the workplace. More
incentives should be given to employers such as tax deduction for employment of
disabled persons; grants to renovate and retrofit the workplace must also be provided.

6. Follow-up
Follow-up is a critical step after a disabled person is matched to a job. This is especially
true for individuals with intellectual and mental impairments and also those who wish to
enter into business startups. Problems may arise after job placement and interventions
may be necessary to ensure a satisfied placement or small business startup. In order to
retain disabled persons at their jobs, they must have access to the same opportunities
for promotion and lifelong learning that is key to career stability and welfare.

Follow-up should also be done by the job placement officer or trained job coach
concerned to see if disabled persons receive emotional guidance, job development and
capacity building. This is especially true in providing disabled persons with opportunities
to be exposed to and to acquire and upgrade IT skills. It is also essential that coworkers

be also sensitized and educated to interact and work with disabled persons as a team in
the workplace.
All the measures mentioned above also need the support of the employers of disabled
persons themselves. In this aspect, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) can play
an important role in creating greater awareness among employers and the public on the
abilities of disabled persons and provide guidance and support to those enterprises that
are starting to employ disabled persons. Employers should change their mindsets and
employ disabled persons as meeting social responsibility in addition to meeting their HR
requirements in their organizations.

7. Database
There is strong policy interest by the Malaysian Government in establishing and
monitoring the impact of legislation to promote employment opportunities for people with
disabilities. However, useful data of detail and periodicity on the employment situation of
this population group is rarely available in Malaysia especially at the ground level. While
statistics on people with disabilities are available in a number of government agencies
and departments, mainly through population censuses, special ad hoc surveys,
household surveys, or as a by-product of administrative systems, these data tend to be
heterogeneous in many respects.

There are wide differences between the various stakeholders and data sources as to the
definition of the concept of "disability” and its categorisation, the terminology used, the
coverage of the data sources, the classifications used, periodicity of data collection and
reference period. In addition, it is not always possible to identify people with disabilities
who are working or those who are not working, the retention time in their jobs but would
like to work and are able to work.

Accurate statistics is essential in the promotion of open employment of pwds. Without

accurate and timely statistics, potential employers are unable to make informed
decisions to employ disabled persons into their workforce nor are the NGOs and pwds
able to received vital information on the job vacancies in both the private and public
sector. An assessment of Malaysia's current data related to the employment situation of
persons with disabilities has shown that statistics collected by government agencies
seems to be piece meal and often handled by different sub-sections within the agency

Existing datasets published by both the government & non-governmental bodies come
various forms and formats. Some organisations/agencies compile data on a regular
basis whilst others do not. Although some departments (Public Services Department,
Social Welfare Department & Labour Department) like provide some form of job
placement statistics but no data on retention of pwds in their jobs have been

For the future establishment or improvement of statistics on the employment situation of

people with disabilities, it is recommended that a central 1-stop coordinating body be set
up to coordinate data collection from NGOs, government departments/ agencies, training
institutions, employers and employees of pwds; determine the periodicity of data
collection on the basis of the purpose of the statistics to be compiled from it and what
kind of information that can be drawn from it to facilitate the placement of disabled
persons in open employment as well as in sheltered workshop. Sheltered workshops
should also be considered as not all pwds can be suitably placed in open employment

depending on the severity of the disability. Equal opportunity employers should be
highlighted and awarded so that others may follow in their footsteps.

Disabled persons are able to contribute significantly to our economy and society if given
the employment opportunities. However, all parties must cooperate and change their
mentality towards the employment of the disabled.
§ Khor Hung Teik

Robert L. Metts, (2000). “Disability Issues, Trends and Recommendations for the World
Bank World Bank”, 2000

Perry, P. (2002). “Promoting Employment of People with Disabilities: The ILO

Perspective”, Paper presented in Joint Seminar On Employment of Persons with
Disabilities, 12-13 March 2002, KL

Mizoguchi, E. (2002) “Employment Measure For Persons With Disabilities in Japan”,

Paper presented in Joint Seminar On Employment of Persons with Disabilities, 12-13
March 2002, KL.

Zulkiple Ibrahim (2009). “Malaysia Gives Priority Care for the Disabled”.; January 23, 2009

The Star Online (2008). “Task Force To Get More Disabled Into Civil Service.”;
Wednesday May 7, 2008

ILO (2007). “The Employment Situation of People with Disabilities: Towards Improved
Statistical Information.” International Labour Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland.
ILO (2004). “Statistics On The Employment Situation Of People With Disabilities: A
Compendium Of National Methodologies”, Working paper No 40, Geneva, Policy
Integration Department, Bureau of Statistics, International Labour Office.

Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission (2005). “Workability II: Solutions People
with Disability in Open Workplace. Final Report of the National Inquiry into Employment
& Disability”, Sydney, Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission; December 2005

Khor, Hung Teik (2002). “Employment Of Persons With Disabilities In Malaysia” in

Economic Briefing to the Penang State Government, George Town, Penang, March

Discussions with organizations of the Disabled, Sustainable Independent Living &

Access (SILA), March 2002.

Personal Interviews with NGOs, Institutions, Employers, Employees in Johor Bahru,

Employment Quota System for Persons With Disabilities in Japan 2009.

a. Private Sector:
General Private Enterprises (56 or more regular workers): 1.8%
Special Corporations (48 or more regular staff members): 2.1%
b. Public Sector
Government and Local Public Bodies
(48 or more regular staff members) : 2.1% 10
Prefectural Board of Education etc.
(50 or more regular staff members) : 2.0%