Non-government organisations (NGOs) dealing with differently-abled individuals are calling for more cooperation and support from the government in order to level the playing field for employment.

During the 14th Legislative Council meeting recently, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports disclosed that only 56 persons with disabilities (PWD) are currently employed, out of the 9,282 individuals registered with the ministry.

Addressing the issue, YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abidin said, “Mindsets need to change. Not just amongst employers, but also family members of PWD.”

However, President of SMARTER Brunei Malai Hj Abdullah Malai Hj Othman and President of National Association of the Hearing Impaired (OKP) Muhd Nur’Azwan Hj Aziz, both underlined the importance of having full support from the government.

THE REALITY OF BRUNEI’S JOB MARKET

“[At SMARTER], we have our own social entrepreneurship programme where we create employment tailored to each of our IWA [individuals with autism],” he told The Scoop.

Malai Hj Abdullah Malai Hj Othman, the vice president of the Council for the Welfare of Persons with Different Abilities Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

By tailoring to the different abilities and identifying their strengths, SMARTER is able to give them a job scope where IWA can participate and make a living. But, in order to grow this, resources and backing are limited.

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“The government should support NGOs who practice social entrepreneurship like us, instead of treating us as a company or a business.”

Although Brunei signed the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) to ensure equal rights and opportunities, Malai Hj Abdullah said that it has not yet been realised. Brunei ratified the CRPD on April 11, 2016, but national legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities is still in the works.

According to him, the right support and recognition will allow them to create jobs for special needs individuals as well as empower and nurture them. Malai Hj Abdullah pointed out that it is difficult for special needs individuals to remain competitive in the job market, noting the relatively high rate of unemployment.

There are over 10,000 unemployed Bruneians. Over 5,000 are graduates with masters degrees. Over 3,000 have Higher National Diplomas or a professional qualification… So, how can people with different abilities compete?

‘MAKE CAPACITY BUILDING MORE INCLUSIVE’

Out of the $5.3 billion government budget passed for the upcoming fiscal year, more than $50 million has been allocated towards capacity building, skills development and employment creation.

This includes a $43 million budget for the i-Ready programme and the Centre for Capacity Building.

OKP President Muhd Nur’azwan highlighted that apprenticeship programmes and skills training should also be offered to  PWD.

Muhammad Nur’Az’wan Hj Aziz was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss since birth. Photo: Courtesy of Muhammad Nur’Az’wan

“There needs to be support in terms of providing short courses at IBTE institutions or even practical training. It will help special needs individuals so that they can be employed just like normal people,” he told The Scoop.

For special needs individuals who are currently studying at higher education institutions, Muhd Nur’azwan suggests they be identified and provided industry attachment after graduation.

“Once employed, the support shouldn’t just stop there,” he said, adding that they should also be given skill development training in order to progress in their careers.

The OKP currently has over 200 members. Out of which, only 20 per cent are working, while two per cent are studying at higher education institutions.

“They too deserve to get salaries. Most of those with different abilities have families to support, they cannot depend wholly on their parents.”

CREATE FLEXIBLE JOB MARKET, PROVIDE INCENTIVES

Acceptance should be key to building sustainable and inclusive communities, said advocate for the blind, Norali Ali Yusop.

Himself visually impaired, Norali said that youths with disabilities who are of working age are underrepresented in Brunei’s job market.

“While I cannot be certain whether this reflects the lack of initiative on the part of our local youths with disabilities, or the unwillingness of employers to accommodate… I should stress that they must first possess the academic merits and professional competencies, just like their able-bodied counterparts.”

However, Norali feels that incentivising the employment of differently-abled individuals will help open up more job opportunities. In developed countries, the government provides incentives for employers to hire PWD. For example, in the United Sates, Australia and United Kingdom, companies recruiting special needs individuals are given lower tax rates.

But, he agreed with the minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, saying mindsets need to change.

“Our job market must be flexible enough to respond to the diverse needs of persons with disabilities,” the Special Education Unit officer said.

This includes adapting work procedures to include workers with disabilities and to ensure buildings and infrastructure is accessible.

“I believe the first step that everybody needs to take is to recognise persons with disabilities as people first, disability second, and distinguish being different as another part of human diversity rather than being a deficit,” Norali said.

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