Penang: A Home for Persons with Disabilities

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THE PENANG STATE government works contemporaneously with the federal government to provide aid and assistance for citizens in need.

A top priority category is the Persons with Disabilities, or PwDs. The shared programmes and schemes introduced by both levels of government include the registration of PwDs, financial aids, Disability Equality Training (DET), artificial tool assistance, Disability Worker Allowance (EPC), Community Rehabilitation Programmes (PDK), and the establishment of welfare institutions.

A trainee being taught how to garden by one of the trainers at PDK Perai.

In his Budget 2020 speech, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow announced an increase to the annual aid from RM130 to RM150 to benefit the state’s 178,000 senior citizens and about 10,000 PwDs. “The increase from RM130 to RM150 each will involve an allocation of RM26.7mil for senior citizens and RM1.5mil for the disabled,” he says.1

Penang’s PwDs are encouraged to be self-sustaining, and are prepared for job placements through varied industrial and vocational trainings. “There are laws in Malaysia that care for the disabled as well as give them rights equal to able-bodied people in terms of public facilities and job opportunities,” adds Chow.2

Those in need of artificial or support tools as recommended by medical professionals to increase capacity and mobility are advised to seek financial assistance from Penang’s Welfare Department. Examples of assistive help include wheelchairs, hearing aids, crutches, tool replacement or repairs, and other forms of customised support.3 Psychology and counselling services, as well as care centres have also been set up, as are various kinds of assessments, interventions, outreaches and programmes to ensure the PwDs’ mental health and emotional well-being.4

Last February, the state welfare department, through its community-based rehabilitation centres (PPDKs), organised a number of entrepreneurial and cultural programmes aimed at cultivating the PwDs’ fundamental skills, and promoting independent living. One such initiative is the One Product PPDK, which is expected “to significantly empower disabled people in generating income with the guidance of committed supervisors and staff,” says state welfare director Shaballah Zainal Abidin, adding that there are currently 25 PPDKs in the state benefitting 1,033 trainees.5

Facilitating Social Integration

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A trainer assisting a PwD trainee in making the rojak sauce at PDK Perai.

To help boost the PwDs’ morale, community involvement at all levels of society is crucial, as is support from family and caregivers. The primary goal for the PDK centres is to equip these individuals with hard and soft motor skills – regardless of disability and age – through a three-model system, i.e. the home-based, centre-based and homecentre- based models.

In the home-based model, house visits are conducted by PDK trainers to bedridden PwDs every Friday to determine if improvements are made after each physiotherapy session; these sessions are normally conducted within the PDK premises, or sometimes, at the trainees’ homes.

The home-centre-based model monitors the PwDs’ training development, as well as their memory skills. “This is basically to identify if the trainees put to practice the skills acquired from the PDK, through specifically-tailored activities and programmes, at home. It’s a tried and tested method to make sure the trainees’ soft motor skills are improving,” says Juraini Mansor, the supervisor of PDK Perai.

To help boost the PwDs’ morale,
community involvement at all levels of
society is crucial, as is support from
family and caregivers.

Special workshops are also conducted under the One Product PDK initiative where trainees are taught to make a product unique to their respective centres. Once the skill is mastered and the trainees are able to make the product by the bulk, the centre’s supervisor will engage and secure interested buyers, and proceeds from the sales will be channeled back to the PwDs as a form of income.

“Our main product here is making rugs,” says Selmah Abu Bakar, the supervisor of PDK Sungai Tiram. “We also rear catfishes. Trainees are tasked to care for them, which helps in strengthening their soft motor skills, and disciplining focus.” Meanwhile, Juraini of PDK Perai says her trainees are rojak sauce-making experts. “We’ll also be introducing pastry-making and baking to our trainees soon.”

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Juraini Mansor, the supervisor of PDK Perai.

Selmah is happy to report that a number of her PwD trainees have been offered job opportunities after receiving basic training from the centre. Twenty-three-year-old Muhammad Aiman Fikri bin Saad, who is physically-challenged, gained employment at a nearby KFC. He has been a regular trainee at PDK Sungai Tiram since 2015, and though he officially left the centre in 2017, he still returns to participate in the programmes.

To add to their source of income, the state government provides PwD trainees with financial aid. A monthly allowance of RM150 is given to those who attend the PDK centres regularly, and employed PwDs are given the EPC.

Regular visits from panel clinics, dentists and therapists are part of the schedule of these centres. Some visits are a monthly affair, while others are conducted biannually to assess and monitor the trainees’ health and progress with regards to their respective disabilities. In terms of technology and multimedia, some of these centres are equipped with PDKNet, which aims to help children with Down Syndrome and slow learners in enhancing their computer skills and knowledge of software programmes.6

Providing Job Opportunities

PDK Sungai Tiram.

Flex Malaysia is currently one of the largest employers of PwDs in the country, in line with its sustainability vision of providing decent work for all, and to promote a diverse and inclusive work environment.

A first batch of 27 hearing-impaired employees began work at Flex Penang on October 8, 2018, coinciding with the launch of the organisation’s global “Diversity & Inclusion Series” initiative and People with Disabilities Awareness Week. Flex works closely with the Penang Deaf Association and JobsMalaysia (the recruitment arm of the Human Resource Ministry) to hire hearing-impaired individuals, mainly for production operator positions.

Their job interview sessions are conducted with the support of the Penang Deaf Association’s sign language interpreter; and once hired, these employees undergo an orientation programme, facilitated by a site training team and the sign language interpreter.

The newly-added computers for the PDKNet at PDK Perai.

PwD employee Fathihah Abdul Rahman says, “A one-week orientation and three-month probation period to help us understand our job responsibility and to be comfortable with the working environment was arranged when we first started work. Our supervisors are clear in their instructions and are patient with us during this time. A buddy system is applied where each hearing-impaired employee is assisted by an able-bodied employee to help us assimilate into the company and to understand our job requirements.”

To start, PwD employees are instructed on the assembly of mechanicals, in-circuit test, functional test, visual inspection and packing, while working alongside other employees on the production floor.

“Flex alone accounts for almost 4% (150) of the registered PwD employees in the country, which exceeds the 1% mark set by the government policy. We still have ongoing plans to increase the hiring of PwD talents, in alignment with the government’s policy, and we are looking to triple our PwD family across Malaysia in the very near future,” says Hasifah Haron, Flex Penang’s director of regional HR business partner.

Supervisors and managers are encouraged to attend basic sign language classes; and communication with their PwD employees is done through sign language, written communication and via WhatsApp. During weekly briefings, PwD employees are asked to “voice out” any issues through writing. Items discussed include attendance, dashboard performance for surface mount technology lines, and performance analysis to gauge if they have met their weekly target.

Flex Penang's PwD employees participating in a social PwD event.

To nurture a PwD-friendly work environment, Flex conducts PwD-inclusion awareness workshops which are aimed at security personnel, canteen operators and other internal stakeholders who regularly communicate with PwD employees. Guidelines and awareness trainings are also provided for employees to help them better understand how to work with PwD colleagues. Last March, Flex launched its “Learn to Sign Series” to promote awareness of sign language-use through learning to sign some keywords for major celebrations and events.

As the organisation currently only hires hearing-impaired employees, their accessibilities in terms of movement is the same as able-bodied employees. But in cases of emergency, strobe light alarms have been installed to alert the PwDs as they will not be able to hear the emergency alarms.

“We are committed to the ongoing advancement of equality, respect and dignity in our workplace and the communities we serve, through programmes that improve equal engagement and inclusion. We believe that ‘no one should be left behind’ and that PwDs, as both beneficiaries and agents of change, can fast-track the process towards inclusive and sustainable development, and promote a resilient society for all,” says vice president of operations Viswanathan Paramasivam.

Enhancing Accessibility

Established in 1988, the Society of the Disabled Persons Penang (SDPP) strives to fight for the rights of the disabled and underprivileged communities regardless of race, colour, creed and social status. Managed by PwDs, the society currently boasts 250 members and counting; and is committed to making Penang accessible to all PwDs and the elderly.

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Launching of PwD Week and Welcoming Session of the Flex Penang Family.

A case in point: SDPP president Datuk Teh Lay Kuan raised the issue of a lack of amenities for those physically challenged at the Penang City Park (formerly the Youth Park), including the absence of step ramps and accessible toilets, to the chief minister last September. She concedes that though improvements have been made to the park’s disabled facilities, “the ramp from the stage to the car park is still too steep.” Another perennial vexation is the misuse of disabled parking by the Penang public.

Public awareness of the PwDs is essentially a work in progress; to bridge the gap, SDPP conducts a variety of activities and events for PwDs and non-PwDs to get together. Guidelines on the installation of PwD-friendly facilities can also be found on its website, from advising on the Uniform Building Bylaws which stipulates that all public buildings in Malaysia must provide facilities for disabled persons, to good building design concepts, e.g. the required space allowance for those using mobility devices, and communication systems for hearing- and visually-impaired individuals.

The society also advises members on government-related PwD matters, introduce potential employers of members, as well as assist in securing sponsorship for assistive tools for those in need of them.

Sarah Daniel Jacob finds it difficult to describe herself, but one thing she's sure of is her love for comedy and making people laugh. And if she had at least 5% of a TikTok-er's confidence, she'd be doing stand-up comedy.



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