Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s call that disabled persons be given employment opportunities is most welcomed. God knows how difficult it is for disabled persons to get jobs with remunerations that commensurate with our qualifications. Those who are able to obtain jobs have to face another set of challenges in the form of physical and attitudinal barriers. The context of this entry emphasizes on wheelchair users and people with mobility impairment more as I am one of them and very familiar with problems that they face.
Getting disabled persons employed is the ultimate goal here. How we reach that goal is equally important. The government must look at the process of getting disabled persons academically qualified before we can be employed. Schools must be accessible. To get disabled persons to schools, public transport must be accessible. The built environment must be accessible to ease the movement of disabled persons going to school and to work. Each step in the process leading to disabled persons being gainfully employed is inseparable. Therefore the approach has to be holistic rather than piecemeal. One cannot exist without the other.
Private corporations are doing their part by employing disabled persons. I am aware that some multinationals made it a point to include accessible facilities in the form of ramps and larger toilets in their premises. They are the exception, not the norm. The government too must play their part by ensuring that the infrastructure is ready to support disabled persons seeking skills to make themselves employable. This can be achieved through legislation and enforcement, and incentives.
The government has allocated a quota of 1% for employing disabled persons in the public sector through Civil Service Circular No. 10 for Year 1998 (Pekeliling Perkhidmatan Bil. 10 Tahun 1998). However, disabled persons working in the public sector amounted to only 0.2% according to Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development Datuk Paduka Chew Mei Fun quoted in Bernama on February 2, 2007.
In the same report, she also stated that up to April last year, of the 160,000 disabled persons registered with the Department of Social Welfare, only 1% were hired by the private and public sector. 1,600 have found employment in the private sector and 325 in the public sector. The reason given was that there is a lack of information on the facilities needed by disabled persons who seek employment. If this is so, the government should lead by example by first ensuring that facilities in all government buildings are fully accessible and employ more disabled persons in the public sector. The call for a caring society must first begin from the government – kepimpinan melalui teladan.