There must be radical change to enable this valuable human capital to become an integral part of the development of the country, writes Dharvin Sugumaran.
Sitting down at a lecture, listening to the challenges of people with disabilities being recruited and the intricacies of providing suitable ergonomics for them to function, provoked me into thinking about whether our home-grown corporate towers are ready to receive this valuable human capital so that they too can contribute to the national economy.
I wonder how top leaders in the business world see disabled engineers, accountants and IT professionals as they go about in their quest to build their business empires. Do they see them as highly skilled human capital, a pool of talent that could be employed for the development of the country?
Unfortunately, the existing unfavourable infrastructure and environment hampers the advancement of this marginalised group, making it difficult for them to climb the corporate ladder.
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Should this state of affairs continue to exist? What are the challenges faced by this group of talented Malaysians in the corporate world? Will this unfair situation change?
International business giants such as Barclays, Lloyds and Shell have set the benchmark in providing access to people with disabilities. Despite years of rhetoric and promises, access to good jobs is often difficult for people with disabilities. Many corporate towers still lack wheelchair access while online application forms are a challenge for the dyslexic or visually impaired.
But are the educated, skilful and intellectually physically disadvantaged persons in the Malaysian corporate world able to see the light at the end of the tunnel? Significant changes are essential so that these marginalised but dynamic Malaysians can be included into the mainstream of development.
George Selvanera, director of Policy, Services and Communications at the UK’s Business Disability Forum (BDF), says the difficulty in finding good employment can harm the confidence of disabled people. As such, the onus lies on policy makers to be considerate and inclusive of these potential contributors to our nation’s GNP.
A major challenge which has been perpetuated all these years in the business world is that people with disabilities are regarded as an avenue to earn the praise of the public. These people are viewed as objects or recipients of “charity” in Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.
The mindset of treating these valuable assets of the economy as objects of welfare programmes is appalling. The fact that they are disabled is often magnified but society has overlooked their ability and competence. Some people with disabilities may be numerically adept; others may be skilled in writing; and yet others may have a flair for speaking and discourse.
So, the approach to address this populace has to change. The manner of attending to the needs of these people must be different. The general public has to shed their unnecessary sympathy and pity towards this population.
Empowerment must be the key agenda in designing scheme to uplift them. A disabled-friendly ecosystem and ‘univeral design’ infrastructure must be in place to support the people with disabilities.
A fair percentage of people with disabilities are educated and trained to earn a living. Furthermore, this populace wants reformation and recognition. They want to break away from the shackles of purported CSR programmes.
Impediments should therefore be eradicated to create a new niche for people with disabilities to be part of the economic development of this wonderful nation.
Have we ever spared a thought as to how professionals with disabilities need to move around in their working environment? Is the environment created beneficial to them? Lack of access is another quandary faced by this segment of society. Suitable ramps and pathways are lacking for them to manoeuvre around. Are there proper tools and infrastructure for the visually impaired?
Until and unless we are in their shoes, it is hard to realise the complications they face. Every simple chore becomes a daunting task to be accomplished. These obstacles, present at every nook of the working environment, hold back qualified individualsfrom becoming part of the corporate world. It is distressing to know that policymakers and business insiders take no notice of the struggles of people with disabilities.
To add salt to injury, the troubles faced by people with disabilities have never been mentioned in town planning blueprints. Most development projects seems inclined to cater towards able-bodied people. The appalling lack of access for people with disabilities is a total injustice and blatantly contravenes the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
On the whole, the people with disabilities in Malaysia, especially in the context of the corporate world, are still in a disadvantaged position. There must be radical change to enable this valuable human capital to become an integral part of the development of the country.
People with disabilities want recognition and empowerment, not sympathy and mercy. An all-inclusive policy must be in place to accommodate this segment of society.
The shedding of the able-bodied ‘chauvinist’ mentality is paramount. Every development or blueprint must spare a thought for those with disabilities so that they may one day be part of the decision-making process.
We can proudly declare ourselves to be a developed nation when we see a professional in a wheelchair as the CEO of a business organisation. That, to me, would be real progress.
Dharvin Sugumaran, a final-year business undergraduate at Quest International University Perak, wants to make it big in the corporate arena. But this aspiring writer also hopes for a just and equal Malaysia for everyone.
Dharvin recently participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups in Ipoh, supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
“The workshop was an eye opener,” says Dharvin. “I was able to glean useful insights on national issues. Many thanks to Aliran for inspiring me to be a writer – something I have always dreamt of.”