AIDA (Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group), along with our allies, express deep disappointment over the remarks made by Human Resources Minister, V. Sivakumar, at the October 16, 2023 press conference held at the Parliament building: “The country’s laws on workplace discrimination cover persons with disabilities as well, and there is no need to enact specific legislation for this group”.
The minister’s statement reflects a lack of understanding and acknowledgment of the systemic barriers faced by persons with diverse disabilities in job search, recruitment, and employment.
He further substantiated his statement by pointing out that the government had only received eight reported cases up to September 20 of this year, none of which involved discrimination faced by employees with disabilities.
In response to the minister’s statement, we would like to raise four key points:
OKU Exclusion In The Hiring Process
Persons with disabilities consistently face exclusion during the hiring process, battling biases and discrimination from the outset. Long-standing government failure to address this problem perpetuates the systemic issue, leaving disabled persons marginalised.
With this bias in the hiring process, many persons with disabilities are forced to hide their disability for fear of being discriminated against. A case in point: a blind university graduate with first-class honours was handed RM50 and told to go home when he showed up in person for a job interview that he had been shortlisted for.
Global data show that 80 to 90 per cent of working-age persons with disabilities are unemployed in developing countries. Yet, Malaysian data regarding the employment status of persons with disabilities are not available in the public domain, and are not disaggregated by gender, age, and disability.
The poverty of Malaysian data obscures the true extent of issues faced by persons with diverse disabilities in the job search, recruitment, employment, and job retention process.
1 Per Cent OKU Public Sector Employment Mandated
The implementation of Malaysia’s commitment to hiring 1 per cent of persons with disabilities in the civil service is a dismal failure. Except for the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, this mandate remains unfulfilled.
In 2021, it was reported that only 0.35 per cent of employees in the civil service were persons with disabilities, much lower than the targeted 1 per cent quota for the public sector.
Government inability to meet its own policy target raises serious concerns regarding its commitment to inclusivity as demonstrated via disability inclusion.
The minister missed seizing the opportunity to address the real issue: the absence of reported cases of workplace discrimination against persons with diverse disabilities is actually indicative of the fact that most of us are not getting employed in the first place.
Critical Amendments to the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2008
Malaysia urgently needs comprehensive amendments to empower persons with disabilities and uphold and protect our rights.
We stress the urgent need for the following:
- The establishment of a Disability Tribunal to ensure affordable and OKU-friendly access to justice.
- The appointment of an independent Disability Commissioner with authority to track implementation and enforcement and troubleshoot gaps in the building and strengthening of OKU-related multi-ministerial coordination and cooperation.
- The introduction and implementation of legal provisions for the rights of women and girls with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have distinct needs and rights.
The Employment Act, as it stands, does not suffice for protecting and upholding the rights of persons with disabilities in the entire process of job search, recruitment, employment and continuous learning and career advancement.
Claim Of Only Eight Reported Cases, None Involved Discrimination Against Disabled Employees
This claim is based on serious flaws in logic and understanding of the depth and pervasive impact of discriminatory practices. The lived reality is that most persons with disabilities acquiesce in the face of discrimination.
Many of us are enslaved by widespread discriminatory practices. We have little choice and no experience of access to justice when we experience discrimination. Most of us do not have a basic grasp of legal literacy.
Since the country’s independence, mechanisms for reporting discrimination cannot be accessed by persons with disabilities. This fact can no longer be ignored in 21st century Malaysia.
Consider the following case studies that we received in our collective advocacy efforts.
Person With Invisible Disability, Aged 36
In a virtual job interview, everything appeared promising as the interviewer expressed immediate interest and promised an offer letter. However, during the interview, she had no chance to disclose her long-term medication and therapy for depression.
After receiving the offer letter and proactively disclosing her condition, the employer rescinded the offer, citing inexperience with employees dealing with depression.
This incident sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and mental health conditions in Malaysia’s job market.
Deaf Person, Wheelchair User With Cerebral Palsy, Aged 37
He had been employed by a company for four years. Unfortunately, the building where he worked was not wheelchair user-friendly, and there was no accessible toilet (OKU toilet) on the same level as his workstation.
This meant he had to go downstairs whenever he needed to use the toilet. When he requested improved accessibility, his request was denied, and he was subsequently asked to leave the company.
To make matters worse, he was not paid his salary for the last month before termination. He couldn’t manage to go through with the process of filing a formal complaint due to the lack of accessible transportation and the inability to travel independently.
He was also discouraged from reporting to the authorities, as cases such as his were deemed of no priority and tended to remain unresolved.
The fear of being penalized for being disabled is real. It is well-grounded in the experiences of many persons with disabilities.
We urge the government to initiate open and extensive consultations with stakeholders and the public to ensure that amendments to the Persons with Disabilities Act include comprehensive employment-related provisions.
These provisions must genuinely reflect the experiences and needs of persons with disabilities, and be harmonised with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that Malaysia ratified in 2010.
The human resources minister could play a historic role by acquiring a holistic understanding of the systemic problems obstructing the employment of persons with disabilities and proposing the legal provisions for their removal.
Failure to enact meaningful legislative amendments would perpetuate the exclusion and discrimination faced by persons with disabilities, who are estimated to be 16 per cent of the Malaysian population.
- Beatrice Leong, autistic adult and founder of AIDA (Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group).
- Ch’ng B’ao Zhong, autistic adult and licensed and registered counsellor.
- Raul Lee Bhaskaran, ADHD individual, lawyer and civil rights activist.
- Dr Amar-Singh HSS, person with dyslexia, child disability activist, advisor, National Early Childhood Intervention Council, advisor, National Family Support Group for Children and People with Special Needs, and member, the OKU Rights Matter Project.
- Anthony Chong, co-founder and secretary, Deaf Advocacy and Wellbeing National (DAWN).
- Moses Choo, blind person; former member, Majlis Kebangsaan Orang Kurang Upaya (MBOKU) from 2016 to 2021, and independent consultant on ICT for blind persons and persons with low vision.
- Dr Lim Tien Hong, blind person and disability rights activist.
- San Yuenwah, person with invisible disability, care partner, disability rights advocate, member, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group, and member, The OKU Rights Matter Project
- Naziaty Yaacob, polio survivor and person with multiple disabilities, accessibility and mobility advisor-cum-trainer, former member, Majlis Kebangsaan Orang Kurang Upaya (MBOKU) from 2008 to 2012, and former associate professor in architecture, University of Malaya.
- Meera Samanther, former president of AWL and WAO, executive committee member of AWL, member of Harapan OKU Law Reform Group, and parent advocate, disability and gender activist.
- Ng Lai-Thin, care partner and project lead, National Early Childhood Intervention Council and member, the OKU Rights Matter Project.
- Association of Women Lawyers (AWL).
- The OKU Rights Matter Project.
- Dr Zahilah Filzah Zulkifli, consultant paediatrician and president of Malaysian Advocate for Child Health, autism consultant with AT-Autism, and SPELL lead trainer.
- Prof Dr Ramiza Ramza Ramli, chairman, USM Early Intervention Center (UNEIC) and chairman, USM Autism Society.
- Dr Mohd Iqbal Iyen, paediatrician, Jesselton Medical Centre, Kota Kinabalu.
- Dr Intan Juliana Abd Hamid, consultant paediatrician in immunology and allergy, Institut Perubatan dan Pergigian Termaju, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
- Dr Fahisham Taib, consultant paediatrician and senior lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
- Dr Syed Abdul Khaliq, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist, Hospital Pakar An-Nur, Bangi.
- Penang Independent Living Association for the Disabled (PILAD).
- Anit Kaur Randhawa, parent advocate, member, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group, and member, the OKU Rights Matter Project.
- Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon, Department of Psychology, Sunway University, and mental health advocate.
- Dr Mohd Zaqrul Razmal, consultant paediatrician, Mawar Medical Centre, Seremban.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.