Saturday, May 28

The elusive quest for financial independence

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ONE of the worries that constantly bugs me is my financial security. Being disabled is expensive. Apart from the fundamental needs like food and shelter, there are recurring expenses that need to be taken into account.

The wheelchair and cushion have to be replaced every few years due to wear and tear. I usually do not wait until the wheelchair breaks down or the cushion gets worn out before getting a new one, not when my independence and mobility are totally dependent on them.

The inaccessible public transport system makes it necessary for me to get my own car, which requires petrol and regular maintenance. Without a car, I will not be able to move around and do the work I am doing now. All this costs money.

Thankfully, consultations, treatments and selected medicines at government hospitals are free for holders of the Kad OKU like me. Medicine alone would have set me back at least RM400 every month. That does not include other disposable items like urinary catheters and diapers. It is hard not to be concerned when we have to incur such heavy expenses. Moreover, it is difficult for us disabled people to find work to support ourselves. This is not only due the physical barriers in the built environment. The prejudices and misconception towards our abilities to perform up to par are the other contributing factors.

I know the feeling of having to depend on parents or siblings for subsistence. The anxiety of wondering what will happen when family members can no longer provide monetary support never fails to evoke an unsettling feeling.

Even now, I wonder if what I have saved up is sufficient to tide me over if I have to stop working seeing that I may need to have a bigger nest egg than non-disabled people due to my physical and medical conditions.

For the past three years, I have had the privilege of being involved in providing Disability Equality Training (DET) in seminars organised by three government agencies in encouraging the employment of disabled people in the private sector.

The Job Coach Network Malaysia was formed by the Welfare Department in 2008 to promote sustainable employment for disabled people in the open job market instead of in segregated and sheltered workshops.

Trained job coaches support disabled people and their employers through a seven-step process beginning from the pre-employment stage. This includes the evaluation of the disabled person, assessment of the work place to create an inclusive environment and follow up afterwards to help the employee stay on the job.

Mydin Mohammed Holdings Bhd, GCH Retails (M) Sdn Bhd and QSR Brands (M) Sdn Bhd are some of the companies that have adopted the supported employment approach in their recruitment for workers. Collectively, they have more than 400 disabled people working for them.

The Social Security Organisation renders assistance to members who are disabled in the course of employment from injuries or diseases through the Return to Work (RTW) programme that was established in 2007.

The programme ensures that appropriate medical care and rehabilitation are provided to optimise the recovery of members. They are then issued with assistive aids should they require it in order for them to become productive again. In the event that the previous work has become unsuitable, job placement officers can assist them in securing work with other employers.

Many members who are disabled or stricken with debilitating diseases have been able to benefit from this programme and become employed again.

Just last week, the Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia organised a seminar on supported employment for about 200 participants from the private sector. They were given exposure on how they can utilise the services of Job Coach in hiring disabled people.

The Department of Labour has also been giving out grants since 2007 to entrepreneurs looking to expand their business under the Self-Employment Scheme (Skim Bantuan Galakan Perniagaan Orang Kurang Upaya [SBGP-OKU]). To date, 850 applicants have received grants and another 714 disabled persons were employed as a result of this scheme.

The Job Placement for Disabled People (SPOKU) and JobsMalaysia portals by the Ministry of Human Resource are automatic online job matching systems where employers can post vacancies and jobseekers can apply for jobs that fit their qualifications and requirements. There are currently 13,868 disabled persons registered with both systems.

Apart from that, to further encourage disabled people to join the workforce, the Welfare Department provides an RM300 Disabled Workers’ Allowance monthly for those drawing a salary of RM1,200 or less and a Launching Grant for Self-Employment that offers a maximum of RM2,700 for those who want to start their own business.

Disabled tax payers are entitled to an additional RM6,000 relief on top of the RM9,000 for individual relief. Employers are not left out. They can claim double tax deduction on the salaries of disabled employees.

Despite the various incentives and initiatives, disabled people still have difficulty in getting employed. It is certainly not for the lack of effectiveness of these programmes. I personally know the people involved. They are dedicated and passionate in what they are doing.

The government needs to seriously resolve this issue in a holistic manner by ensuring the built environment and public transport system provide seamless connectivity from homes to workplaces.

When disabled people can earn a decent living, the country’s productivity and economy will profit. With financial independence, we can look after ourselves better.

We become less dependent on welfare and charity, be it from family members, society or the government. This win-win situation for everyone is something worth working towards.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.