A culture of kindness and gratitude – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 17 May, 2015

A culture of kindness and gratitude
May 17, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan

WHILE I was seated in the driver’s seat with the door wide open, my wife was busy taking my wheelchair out from the boot and assembling it. A young man who was walking past looked at my wife and then at me as he walked past.

I became wary. The car park was quiet. No one else was in sight. My heart skipped a beat when he turned back and approached us. I quickly placed my hand on the steering wheel, ready to press the horn to get attention should there be a need.

“Do you need help?” he asked politely.

“Thank you, we can manage,” my wife and I replied in unison.

“Are you sure?” he asked again.

I nodded and mouthed the word “Yes”. He gave us a thumbs up sign, smiled and walked off.

I felt relieved and embarrassed at the same time; embarrassed for being suspicious of someone who was contemplating if we needed assistance and openly offered it. Having read of many cases of people being robbed, car-jacked or even kidnapped in car parks, one cannot be too careful. I am glad he turned out to be a good Samaritan.

It is fortunate that I often cross paths with friendly strangers who are considerate and courteous. They comprise mostly of young people who are always ready to lend a helping hand. Perhaps it is true when they say strangers are friends we have not met yet. Some of these caring strangers have since become good friends.

While out shopping a few weeks ago, the elevator door opened to a young couple with a pram inside. There was just barely enough space to fit my wheelchair. They held the door while I slowly manoeuvred in. I thanked them for being patient.

On the ride up to my intended floor, I made funny faces at the chubby toddler who was comfortably tucked in the pram. She chuckled.

“Panggil uncle,” her mother prompted.

She shyly turned her face away.

I got out before them. Again, they held the door while I carefully reversed out. And again, I thanked them. Not only did they responded with a “Sama-sama”, they bade us goodbye and asked the toddler to wave farewell as well which she meekly did.

Random acts of kindness like these do not cost anything. We can extend them to anyone anywhere and anytime. From greeting the security guard at our workplace with a cheery “Good morning” to giving up our seat in the bus to a senior citizen or pregnant woman, we can make their day more pleasant and ours too at the same time.

We each have the potential to make a difference in someone else’s life. No act is too small or too big. They transcend skin colour, creed and religion. And they do not have to be limited to our fellow humans only. Animals too deserve kindness, especially dogs and cats. There are many around our neighbourhoods that are abused, abandoned and maimed. Giving them a loving home or paying for their upkeep in shelters are some of the things we can do.

In one of his messages on world peace in 2008, the Dalai Lama had said, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”

Indeed, the many times that I was on the receiving end of kindness I felt valued as a person. Those encounters always left a smile on my face for hours afterwards. I am so blessed in this way that I am compelled to do my part in spreading it along. Whenever the opportunity arises, I make it a point to pay it forward.

I can also attest to the Dalai Lama’s wisdom that showing kindness towards others helps us to be happy. When on the road, I usually slow down to allow cars from the side road to turn into the main road. A simple acknowledgement of gratitude from the drivers is sufficient to make my day. Even if they did not reciprocate, I was content knowing I had played my part.

More importantly, I hope the drivers will take the cue and extend the same courtesy to other drivers. It can be very stressful to be on the road nowadays with inconsiderate drivers testing our driving skills and patience to the limit. What goes around comes around. I am glad to say that other drivers have time and again shown me the same courtesy by voluntarily giving way.

Showing gratitude is equally important. Therefore, to the people who have been considerate and courteous to me even for the smallest of matters, please accept my heartfelt thanks. Continue doing what you have been doing. Here is hoping these acts will spread and make this world a better place for everyone.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/05/17/a-culture-of-kindness-and-gratitude/#ixzz3hq3bLm76

Making employment sustainable for disabled people – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 10 May, 2015

Making employment sustainable for disabled people
May 10, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan

Ogawa (second from left) with senior job coach trainers and the writer at the Asia Pacific Supported Employment and Job Coach Seminar.
Ogawa (second from left) with senior job coach trainers and the writer at the Asia Pacific Supported Employment and Job Coach Seminar.

EMPLOYERS usually shy away from hiring disabled people, especially those with psychosocial and learning disabilities, and traumatic brain injury. This is due to the prejudice, stereotypes and social stigma attached to those conditions. The prevalent mindset is that they are incapable to perform as expected of their duties and doubts over the state of their mental well-being.

They are traditionally limited to working in sheltered workshops where they are segregated from the mainstream workforce and from society. In reality, they have the potential to work in the open and competitive job market with reasonable accommodation and support.

Supported employment was developed in the United States in the 1980s as a means for disabled people to get paid employment with salaries and benefits equal to that of co-workers in similar positions. This is accomplished with job coaches, who provide support not only to disabled workers but also to the employers and co-workers to ensure the employment is sustainable.

Job coaches are not merely instructors. They are trained to analyse and work out solutions in a structured process to ensure the workers are able to fulfil their roles accordingly. The responsibilities of job coaches include assessing the aptitudes and preferences of workers and the work environment, and negotiate with the employers to make necessary changes in accommodating the workers.

Job coaches need to be familiar with the duties assigned to disabled workers. This is to enable them to break the tasks into small systematic steps that are easy to understand and carry out. They also facilitate the co-workers in supporting the disabled worker as job coaches will gradually reduce their support in a phase known as fading. Nevertheless, job coaches will still do periodic follow-ups to assess the situation and resolve any issue that may arise after that.

At a two-day Asia Pacific Supported Employment and Job Coach Seminar held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week, more than 200 representatives from 17 countries from around the region got together to share and learn from each other’s experience.

Professor Hiroshi Ogawa gave the keynote address at the seminar where he outlined the development of supported employment in Japan. He is the founding director of Job Coach Network Japan and teaches at Otsuma Women’s University. He conducted the first Job Coach Training course in Malaysia in 2007.

“I remember these two men, they have autism,” he shared a story of his first job coach practice 17 years ago. “Under job coach support, they really worked hard in a small industry where it was busy and noisy, and a terrible environment for people with autism. And we succeeded. They are the pioneer of Japanese supported employment.”

“The first job coach training was held in 1998. At that time there were just 20 participants. Although the numbers were so small, most of them were highly motivated. Many job coaches graduated from this training and become good leaders of Japanese Job Coach Network.”

He told the participants of the seminar that their first step may be small, just like how it began in Japan, but there is great potential to advance the importance and benefits of job coach and supported employment.

Ogawa also spoke in detail about the Employment Promotion Law in Japan. It was enacted in 1960 and gradually revised to include a quota and levy system. Since 2013, employers must meet the employment quota of disabled people with physical, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. Private companies have a 2 per cent quota and government bodies a 2.3 per cent quota.

Employers with more than 201 employees that do not meet the quota will have to pay a levy of 50,000 yen (RM1,500) per month for each shortfall of one person. This levy is then used for vocational rehabilitation including the provision of job coach services.

According to Nik Omar Nik Ab Rahman, Department for the Development of Persons with Disabilities director, a total of 1,350 participants from private companies, government agencies and NGOs from all over the country have attended job coach training courses. Most importantly, 373 disabled persons have become employed utilising the Job Coach Service Programme since 2012.

He further added that Job Coach Network Malaysia (JCNM) was formed in 2008 by the Welfare Department to facilitate information sharing and partnership among job coach trainers with key stakeholders to promote sustainable employment for disabled people. The network has 33 trainers comprising officers from government agencies, Social Security Organisation, NGOs and private sector.

Companies that have used Job Coach Service Programme or have their own in-house job coaches to employ disabled people include GCH Retails (which operates Giant hypermarkets, Cold Storage and Guardian), KFC, Mydin, Intercontinental Hotel Kuala Lumpur and Aeon.

We are fortunate to be able to learn and adapt the model of supported employment and job coach programme used in Japan which is already well developed and established. It is time for us to take this initiative one step further by emulating the legislation that promotes the employment of disabled people through the imposition of quotas and levy.

It is without a doubt that with reasonable accommodation and support, disabled people with complex disabilities too can work in open employment. Being able to earn a salary can greatly improve their dignity and independence. This in turn will lead to them becoming active participants in society.

More information on job coach can be found at www.jobcoachmalaysia.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/05/10/making-employment-sustainable-for-disabled-people/#ixzz3hq30Ltr5

GST adds burden to disabled people – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 3 May, 2015

GST adds burden to disabled people
May 3, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan

Disabled people protesting against the imposition of GST on assistive devices and essential disposable items. — Photo courtesy of Vincent Ow
Disabled people protesting against the imposition of GST on assistive devices and essential disposable items. — Photo courtesy of Vincent Ow

FOR months leading up to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the government had assured the public that the cost of goods would be reduced. Contrary to that, as most of us have discovered, the cost of living has gone up barely four weeks into the introduction of the new tax regime.

The community of disabled people had an even ruder shock when we discovered assistive devices and all essential disposable items that we use on a daily basis are subjected to the 6% tax as well if purchased directly from shops or suppliers.

Previously, all such devices and items were exempted from sales tax and import duty.

The Royal Malaysian Customs Department GST Division Director Datuk Subromaniam Tholasy was reported to have advised disabled people to get their assistive devices and supplies from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) registered with the Department of Social Welfare where an exemption can be granted by producing a certificate signed by the head of the respective organisations.

I asked several disabled friends and a parent with disabled child for their views on GST and its impact. These were their responses.

Disability rights activist Law King Kiew is a wheelchair user and Paralympian from Kampung Bintangor who is currently based in Kuala Lumpur. She participated in a gathering organised by six disabled people’s organisations recently urging the government to grant tax exemption on all assistive devices and supplies used by disabled people.

She began, “A friend who went to buy a wheelchair had to pay GST. Walking frames, catheters, urine bags and colostomy bags all are subject to the same tax.

“We were not given proper information on how to apply for exemption. Customs officers asked us to write to the GST Processing Centre in Kelana Jaya. There they asked us to write to the Ministry of Finance. They do not have a standard operating procedure.”

Vincent Ow who was also at the gathering uses a motorised wheelchair. He mentioned that the wheelchair operates on two batteries which have to be replaced periodically. They cost about RM1000. The addition of GST makes it even more unaffordable for him.

Fariz Abdul Rani, the director or a prosthetic and rehabilitation equipment supplier in Kota Kinabalu and also a wheelchair user shared with me his concerns. He regularly conducts Disability Equality Training workshops all over the country.

“Almost all equipment used by disabled people are not manufactured locally. We do not have a choice but to import them which is expensive. They also need to be customised for the specific needs of each user which increases the price further. In the end, disabled people will have to bear the extra burden imposed by GST.”

Fariz added that no DPOs in the country can afford to give these customised assistive devices to all their members because these organisations are dependent on donations and charity from the public.

As for disabled people, he lamented that we have no choice but to fork out the extra expenses as our mobility and independence are completely dependent on these devices.

Donald Law, a wheelchair user in Kuching, is especially concerned about disabled people in the low income and unemployed groups. Although he is not affected by the implementation of GST yet on assistive devices, he empathises with the plight those who are.

“Even though some of us are employed, our personal expenses are more than non-disabled people. The government should conduct a study on the number of disabled people who earn high income and how many are employed. Most of us have to ask for financial and other assistance and yet we are charged GST.”

Parents of children with disabilities are also affected by the tax. According to Norfazila Wati Abdul Wahab, whose son has cerebral palsy, the assistive devices for her child have to be replaced regularly as he grows. It was already costly and is made even costlier now. She opined that rehabilitation equipment, disposable diapers and special dietary formulas required by children like her son should be exempted from being taxed without the need for certificates signed by the heads of DPOs.

Personally, I feel that all these are very valid points the government has to take into consideration. On one part, DPOs are established to advocate for our rights and interests. Many are operating on shoestring budgets and run by a skeleton staff of volunteers. They should not be further burdened with the responsibility of giving out assistive devices and supplies needed by members which would require additional resources in fund raising and managing it.

On the other part, not all disabled people are members of DPOs. Not all disabled people are employed or qualify for welfare support from the government. Our expenses are already higher than average due to the assistive devices, disposable items and treatments that we need. To impose tax on these essential items in the face of rising cost of living is really pushing us to the brink.

In view of this matter, I seriously implore the representatives of disabled people in the government, namely the senator and members of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, to firmly state our case and the difficulties we are facing subsequent to the implementation of GST to the relevant authorities.

This is the time for them to stand up and speak out on this important issue without fear and favour, and make full use of their positions for the benefit of all disabled people.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/05/03/gst-adds-burden-to-disabled-people/#ixzz3hq2M5tWy