Saturday, April 26, 2008

Negative Positive

Recently, it came to my attention that back home, the Malaysian government is planning to set aside 1% of its jobs for the disabled. Generally, it has been met with much approval.

On one level, I do think that it is a fair move, one that attempts to level the playing field for disabled people. There's a fair number of talented ones amongst them, but for their physical and mental deficiencies, would have made excellent contributions to society. As some of the reports point out, a lot of them also has better discipline and attitude to those who are fully-abled (for the lack of a better term). That doesn't surprise me; having shown much courage to overcome the barriers in the way, turning up for work at 9am on the dot is a walk in the park.

Figuratively speaking, of course.

What I am bothered about is...well, the whole damn show. Though I am glad that disabled people are getting their day in the sun (which is in line with my personal projection that disabilities will be the next big thing after the whole 'green' approach), this is the sort of positive discrimination that sees hiring disabled people for the sake of hiring disabled people. Quantity, rather than quality, becomes the motif behind these hirings. In short, people will be hired just to hit the 10,200 target (which is quite specific, mind you. What if they only manage 10,195?).

Furthermore, it doesn't really do much to address the attitude of people against the disabled to begin with. In The New Straits Times editorial, it was written that "the biggest handicap can sometimes be the attitudes of bureaucrats who fail to grasp the urgency of translating policy to reality." While it is true on one hand, it fails to diagnose fully what the actual problem is.

That people are just truly ignorant, with regards to disabled people. That's not to say that everyone is, but the general attitude of the public, I feel, is the one that has to change. Doing volunteer work should be an opportunity to do good, rather than an opportunity to have a little extra something on one's CV (though having said that, I have that thing on my CV. However, it is a dispiriting thing, volunteer work, and it is one that I may explore in a future post).

After all, as Public Service Department director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam said, the idea is to promote a caring society by 2020. Yet, no mention was made of how attitude changes can be made. Perhaps a more visible presence of the disabled can help, but I do not see any further solutions put in place.

Neither should such employments entail tax exemptions for the company in question.

Perhaps I am being pickier than I should be. After all, anything that maximises opportunities for the disabled should be good, right? And it can't hurt to hire disabled people, and there are a good many number of them who would do a great job.

Nevertheless, I can't help but shake the feeling that this is little more than a PR exercise to get back into people's good books. Furthermore, I don't think that such endeavours truly get to the root of the issue (that of people's attitudes). I don't think that such announcements will truly empower those who are disabled, for the good ones are already empowered.

It's just a matter of people opening their eyes and accepting that.

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