The elusive quest for financial independence – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 6 September, 2014

The elusive quest for financial independence
Posted on September 6, 2014, Saturday

ONE of the worries that constantly bugs me is my financial security. Being disabled is expensive. Apart from the fundamental needs like food and shelter, there are recurring expenses that need to be taken into account.

The wheelchair and cushion have to be replaced every few years due to wear and tear. I usually do not wait until the wheelchair breaks down or the cushion gets worn out before getting a new one, not when my independence and mobility are totally dependent on them.

The inaccessible public transport system makes it necessary for me to get my own car, which requires petrol and regular maintenance. Without a car, I will not be able to move around and do the work I am doing now. All this costs money.

Thankfully, consultations, treatments and selected medicines at government hospitals are free for holders of the Kad OKU like me. Medicine alone would have set me back at least RM400 every month. That does not include other disposable items like urinary catheters and diapers.

It is hard not to be concerned when we have to incur such heavy expenses. Moreover, it is difficult for us disabled people to find work to support ourselves. This is not only due the physical barriers in the built environment. The prejudices and misconception towards our abilities to perform up to par are the other contributing factors.

I know the feeling of having to depend on parents or siblings for subsistence. The anxiety of wondering what will happen when family members can no longer provide monetary support never fails to evoke an unsettling feeling.

Even now, I wonder if what I have saved up is sufficient to tide me over if I have to stop working seeing that I may need to have a bigger nest egg than non-disabled people due to my physical and medical conditions.

For the past three years, I have had the privilege of being involved in providing Disability Equality Training (DET) in seminars organised by three government agencies in encouraging the employment of disabled people in the private sector.

The Job Coach Network Malaysia was formed by the Welfare Department in 2008 to promote sustainable employment for disabled people in the open job market instead of in segregated and sheltered workshops.

Trained job coaches support disabled people and their employers through a seven-step process beginning from the pre-employment stage. This includes the evaluation of the disabled person, assessment of the work place to create an inclusive environment and follow up afterwards to help the employee stay on the job.

Mydin Mohammed Holdings Bhd, GCH Retails (M) Sdn Bhd and QSR Brands (M) Sdn Bhd are some of the companies that have adopted the supported employment approach in their recruitment for workers. Collectively, they have more than 400 disabled people working for them.

The Social Security Organisation renders assistance to members who are disabled in the course of employment from injuries or diseases through the Return to Work (RTW) programme that was established in 2007.

The programme ensures that appropriate medical care and rehabilitation are provided to optimise the recovery of members. They are then issued with assistive aids should they require it in order for them to become productive again. In the event that the previous work has become unsuitable, job placement officers can assist them in securing work with other employers.

Many members who are disabled or stricken with debilitating diseases have been able to benefit from this programme and become employed again.

Just last week, the Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia organised a seminar on supported employment for about 200 participants from the private sector. They were given exposure on how they can utilise the services of Job Coach in hiring disabled people.

The Department of Labour has also been giving out grants since 2007 to entrepreneurs looking to expand their business under the Self-Employment Scheme (Skim Bantuan Galakan Perniagaan Orang Kurang Upaya [SBGP-OKU]). To date, 850 applicants have received grants and another 714 disabled persons were employed as a result of this scheme.

The Job Placement for Disabled People (SPOKU) and JobsMalaysia portals by the Ministry of Human Resource are automatic online job matching systems where employers can post vacancies and jobseekers can apply for jobs that fit their qualifications and requirements. There are currently 13,868 disabled persons registered with both systems.

Apart from that, to further encourage disabled people to join the workforce, the Welfare Department provides an RM300 Disabled Workers’ Allowance monthly for those drawing a salary of RM1,200 or less and a Launching Grant for Self-Employment that offers a maximum of RM2,700 for those who want to start their own business.

Disabled tax payers are entitled to an additional RM6,000 relief on top of the RM9,000 for individual relief. Employers are not left out. They can claim double tax deduction on the salaries of disabled employees.

Despite the various incentives and initiatives, disabled people still have difficulty in getting employed. It is certainly not for the lack of effectiveness of these programmes. I personally know the people involved. They are dedicated and passionate in what they are doing.

The government needs to seriously resolve this issue in a holistic manner by ensuring the built environment and public transport system provide seamless connectivity from homes to workplaces.

When disabled people can earn a decent living, the country’s productivity and economy will profit. With financial independence, we can look after ourselves better.

We become less dependent on welfare and charity, be it from family members, society or the government. This win-win situation for everyone is something worth working towards.

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Donate responsibly – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 30 August, 2014

Donate responsibly
by Peter Tan. Posted on August 30, 2014, Saturday

MALAYSIANS are generous people. We give to the homeless. We give to beggars. We organise fund collections for victims of natural disasters and conflicts.

The fact that most charities in the country survive largely on donations alone is proof of that.

We give without a second thought of where, how or what the money will be used for. As long as we have donated, we walk away contented, believing we have played our part in making a difference.

While having a drink at a food court with a friend, a man approached us and flashed a well-worn folder full of pictures of disabled children and what appeared to be documents with official government letterheads.

He was polite in telling us he was running a home for the children in another state and appealed for a donation to keep the place running.

My friend fished out RM10 from his pocket and gave it the man who thanked him profusely and moved on to the next table.
When I asked my friend if he was familiar with the charity he just donated to, this was his reply: “I gave with my heart. If he cheated me, let him bear the sin.”

I explained to my friend that donating to dubious charities reduces the amount we can donate to bona fide ones. He was adamant that it was not his concern how the money would be used after he had given it away.

I left the conversation at that, not wanting to get into an argument with him.

In contrast, I am more cautious when it comes to donating money.

Giving to people who have less than us is noble but that does not mean that we should support any and every charity that comes our way asking for money.

I have been following several cash-rich and fixed asset-rich organisations that are still actively appealing for money to fund projects or for the acquisitions of more properties to run programmes for disabled people.

My beef with them is that the amount of donations they collected was never revealed and there was no accountability on how the money was spent.

What they did reveal were the millions of ringgit they needed to kick off the initiatives.

There was one that had asked for donations to run an enablement project for disabled people. When it fell through for not getting the required approvals from the authorities, there was no mention of how the money collected would be used.

I have no issue giving to charities that strive to be self-sustaining. The programmes that they run must enable and empower the target groups to become self-sustaining too where possible.

The age-old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is still sensible advice today.

Ideally, the donations disbursed to target groups should create more value than the seed amount. In reality, a large portion is usually used for administrative expenses rather than the purpose it was intended to support.

It is not easy to find out the ratio of administrative expenditure versus disbursement unless divulged by the organisations. As such, I only contribute to those with office bearers whom I am familiar with and trust.

As a rule of thumb, these organisations should either be registered with the Registrar of Societies as an association or the Companies Commission of Malaysia as a non-profit company limited by guarantee.

Be wary of people who solicit for donations at markets and food courts like the one my friend and I encountered. Such activities require a permit from the authorities, which they usually cannot produce when requested.

It is better to visit the organisation’s registered address to make a donation. This will ensure the money goes directly to where it was intended. Among the charities that I wholeheartedly support are the hospice associations, disability rights organisations and animal welfare groups.

The hospice provides palliative care for people with life-limiting conditions. I was greatly touched by their support, which alleviated a lot of doubts and uncertainties in the last few weeks of my mother’s life.

As a disability rights advocate, I am selective of the disabled people’s organisations that I support. They must work on rights based issues. I absolutely abhor those that use images of disabled people in undignified situations to muster sympathy for fundraising purposes.

Animal welfare groups are often overburdened by too many pets abandoned by irresponsible owners. I believe that these animals deserve a second chance at life. My wife and I donate whenever we can.

Our money set aside for donations is finite. We should give judiciously to where it will be used to create the greatest impact. No matter how big or small the amount, it is always wise to research their activities and expenditure before parting with our money.

There are many fraudsters out there. Nevertheless, do not let that deter you from donating. Give to charities that are truly deserving. It will change the life of someone somewhere for the better.

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My Budget 2015 wish list – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 23 August, 2014

My Budget 2015 wish list
by Peter Tan. Posted on August 23, 2014, Saturday

THERE is no doubt that a lot more can be done to improve the quality of life of disabled people in the country.
Ask anyone of us and we have a litany of complaints of where the government has been found wanting in its commitments towards our well-being as guaranteed by the law and treaties.

Organisations representing our interests have been engaging the government through dialogues, cooperation and other advocacy activities to little effect.

This insufficient support makes it a constant struggle for us to achieve a reasonable level of participation in society.

The government, through its relevant ministries, departments and statutory bodies, have organised conferences where disability issues have been discussed and pledges made thereafter to work on the resolutions.

I have personally attended and contributed my views as a stakeholder at these events since 2006. Eight years on, similar forums are still being held to discuss the very same issues and participated by many of the same actors. When will we realise that doing the same things over and over again will not produce a different outcome.

Really, we should stop flogging the dead horse already, start rolling up our sleeves and get some real work done. Otherwise, we will still be paying lip service until the cows come home.

What we need is for the government to put its money where its mouth is.

In the run up to the budget announcement for the previous years, it is the usual practice for the said organisations to put in memorandums entreating for allocations to alleviate the difficulties faced by disabled people.

More than often these appeals fell on deaf ears.

Therefore, when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak invited the public to participate in the process of formulating Budget 2015, I was naturally sceptical on the changes this initiative can bring in reversing the plight we are in.

Despite the let-downs, there are always these little sparks of eternal hope within that continue to prod me on.

The keyword here is hope. There is always a possibility that we may get a slice of the budget if we ask for it. On the other hand, not doing anything at all will definitely result in nothing.

There are 16 categories where feedback can be put forward for consideration in this year’s budget.

Issues on financial support, health assistance, special education, disabled-friendly facilities and support services are sought for the social welfare category for disabled people and other disadvantaged groups.

I did not have to think hard for what I want and what the disabled community needs. My wish list is the fundamentals that have the potential to uplift the quality of life of disabled people.

They are infrastructure, education and employment. These are all guaranteed in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. Infrastructure in this context comprises the built environment and public transport system. These two are the most crucial components in the scheme of things when it comes to solving disability issues.

First and foremost, an accessible built environment paves the way for disabled people to be out and about safely, conveniently and independently.

An accessible public transport system completes the link to enable us access to other essential public services in place not practically reachable by foot.

The connectivity for both is broken in many places where disabled people are concerned. The federal government working in parallel with the local government in these two areas can result in the exponential increase of accessible facilities.

A sum should be included in every year’s budget for the construction and upgrading of walkways, bus stops, ramps, toilets and other facilities that are under the purview of the authorities. To encourage public transport operators to provide accessible services, tax breaks and incentives should be given for the acquisition of such vehicles.

Education is important. It equips individuals with knowledge, skills and qualifications in making them employable.

A report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) estimated that more than 90 per cent of disabled children in developing countries do not attend school.

An inclusive education system requires more than building accessible facilities in schools and universities. The faculty of teachers and support staff need to be trained with appropriate skills to support the learning of disabled students from early childhood.

There is currently a dearth of such schools and competent personnel.

Other than allocations for the construction of accessible facilities in preschools, schools and universities, full scholarships and professional training together with incentives for further career development should be offered to encourage more teachers and support staff to work in this field.

The cascading effect of accessible built environment and public transport system will allow disabled people to access formal education which in turn will let us acquire the necessary academic qualifications to become employable.

Although the government provides an allowance and tax relief to disabled people who are working and double deduction of remuneration paid to disabled workers for employers, there are very few disabled people in the workforce.

It is difficult to convince the private sector to actively employ disabled people when the government cannot even fulfil its own policy of employing 1 per cent disabled people in the civil service. There were only 1,754 disabled workers in the public sector out of 1.4 million as of December 2012.

The reasons for this low employment rate in the private and public sector is due to inaccessibility or poor connectivity in the public transport system, workplaces that are not barrier free and not having the proper qualifications.

Casting my reservations aside and since the Prime Minister has asked for public participation, I harbour great hopes that he will pay more attention to this simple wish list appealing for action in making the public infrastructure and education more accessible to disabled people in Budget 2015.

The public has until tomorrow (Aug 24) to submit ideas, concerns and needs to the dedicated microsite or through the PM’s Facebook page (

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