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October 15, 2012

A Better Deal for Persons with Disabilities in Malaysia

Unemployment is a rising global problem with tens of millions of persons unable to find meaningful jobs. In many regions, particularly in developing countries, persons with disabilities are at a particular disadvantage with governments and local authorities unable or unwilling to provide adequate help, financial support and advice to marginalized group.

photoSeminar participants learn to analyze a task

In Malaysia, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been cooperating for six years with local authorities to help address this problem and since 2005 the agency and the Malaysian Welfare Department began a project to train so-called job coaches who support job seekers with disabilities.

Job coaches provide pre-employment support and specialized on-site training for persons with disabilities to match them with appropriate job opportunities.

After a detailed job analysis, a job coach usually makes a proposal to the employer to modify the job for those with disabilities who have difficulties performing all the assigned tasks. After the employee masters the requirements and settles into the workplace, the job coach will provide support for the employee on as-needed basis.

As part of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program many companies have sought to employ persons with disabilities. So far, 126 persons have secured employment through this project in17companies including hotels, supermarkets and manufacturers.

photoJob coaches prepare manuals and other materials for employees with disabilities

One of Japan’s most high profile retailing companies, Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., which operates the Uniqlo clothing chain, hired four persons with disabilities in its four outlets in Malaysia. The company is already active in this effort in Japan with employees with disabilities accounting for more than 7% of the total compared with a 1.8% figure Japanese private companies are obligated to meet.

The Malaysian government started a subsidy system to train job coaches in December 2011, and those who got a job at Uniqlo are among the first beneficiaries of the subsidy.

Job coaches from the Malaysian Welfare Department and NGO visited Japan last year to learn what it takes to study job coaching and inspected the Uniqlo Japan activities.

Malaysia has undertaken various initiatives to assist persons with disabilities including promoting more job opportunities in the workplace and designing accessible environment in schools, hospitals and other public places to facilitate their use.

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development is pushing for every government ministry to place at least one job coach by 2020 and all government agencies to ensure that at least 1% of their workforce is made up of persons with disabilities.

Job coaches reported that some parents believe their children have already suffered enough just by being “disabled” and would prefer them to stay in a safe or protected environment rather than working in the ‘real’ world even if employers are welcoming. Thus parents could become a barrier to integration.

photoA disabled employee at a Uniqlo shop in Malaysia

The reward, however, according to one job coach is when a disabled person says: “Let me buy you a lunch since it’s my pay day” or “I will buy my parents some presents when I get my first paycheck.”

JICA’s Project Coordinator Terumi Shikata said, “Job coaching plays a big part in promoting social participation by persons with disabilities because supported employment makes it possible for them to get a job which was formerly impossible for them to get. Since the role of a job coach includes job modification when necessary and job creating by focusing on what they are good at, employers can hire them as productive workforce, not as the objects of philanthropy. These companies reported that they have better teamwork now and their sales have increased.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about 15 percent of the world's population or 1 in every 6 persons has a significant physical or mental disability. But if there are no barriers that limit their social participation, such as the situation of no wheelchair ramp, no sign language or braille, prejudice and discrimination, people with disabilities would not be the “disabled” anymore.

The project has been based mainly in Kuala Lumpur and local cities, but will expand its activities nationwide.


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