The Unseen Discrimination Against the Disabled – KSInsights Apr 2024

Published on 07 May 2024

According to the Centre for Disease Control, a disability is defined as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” This definition tends to make amendments when necessary and have tweaks and turns, but the principle is the same – it is knowing that a person cannot function to the best of their ability, without some help to interact in the way that we can, with the rest of the world.

In tandem with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010, Malaysian disabled activists have proposed amending the 2008 Persons with Disabilities Act (PwD), as it lacks elements that are well behind our neighboring ASEAN countries. There is little to no harmonization of other domestic legislation – what this means is that there are no specifics as to how these laws implemented in the PwD are spread across sectors to protect and help the rights of disabled people. A comprehensive understanding of the multi-prong assessment of different avenues encompassing disability rights is lacking. With that an acute intersectionality that includes gender, age, and class, when it comes to engaging with disability law is not there.

Local disability NGOs like Boleh Space and the Deaf Advocacy and Well-Being National Organisation (Dawn) point out inconsistencies with how the laws are written and how there are no specificities that outline pertinent situations such as the workplace and even societal barriers. This gives way to discrimination being normalized and through that, an infantilization of people with disabilities. The very few nuances of deaf people running a business or a business that employs people with Down syndrome and autism, should not just exist within the Klang Valley. There are an estimated 1.3 billion people experiencing a significant disability (which accounts for 1 in 6 of us), and on top of the daily life and balance they have to navigate, they are in danger of developing twice the risk for severe healthcare complications. When put into perspective, figures like these then do not seem like an afterthought.

There is an unfortunate display, alluding that specific laws are not needed to address issues of workplace discrimination disability, simply because it does not experience the same amount of traffic compared to our overseas partners. It shines a light on holes within the system and how even then, things are not taken as seriously. This sentiment then allows very real ramifications to be carried out, like people rejecting disabled people in the workplace, even before a chance to interview. A survey conducted by and Women’s Aid Organisation in 2020, had women with a permanent disability told by their recruiter they should consider freelancing instead.

It is a common misconception, and a harmful one that all people with disabilities are essentially not cut out to employ our level of understanding. That level of bias is something that able-bodied people are afforded to have. The lifts in the MRT stations are consistently out of order for months, sidewalks not being made big enough, and constant parking of handicapped spots; accessibility is not taken very seriously as disabled people are an afterthought. To change this, people in positions of prominence first and foremost, need to acknowledge what disabled people go through, regardless if there are NGOs and grassroots activism on the ground to help educate. To continue on the world stage, with Malaysia being a member of the World Health Organisation – which has pertinent guidelines for people with disabilities and how they are affected: there is a need to take these matters seriously, where the government introduces fair, just and forward-thinking laws that help us move forward.


07 May 2024