Friday, June 3, 2011

Disabled have it doubly hard

EVERY year, we read of disabled students who have done well in their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) but missed out on scholarships from the Public Service Department (PSD).

A possible reason for this could be that there is no special category for disabled students although there exists a category for students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

This is confirmed by PSD director-general Datuk Seri Abu Bakar Abdullah.

"It is a sensitive issue," he says.

Abu Bakar also believes the PSD scholarships cannot continue to be based only on merit because this will not be fair to potential students from the rural areas.

"Most of the students who scored outstanding results in the SPM come from the excellent schools (sekolah cemerlang) which have good facilities, whereas many of the students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds come from regular schools."

Abu Bakar says that there should be more scholarships for this group of students.

Damai Disabled Persons Association president V. Murugeswaran urges the government to look into creating a special category for disabled students in reviewing the policy on PSD scholarships.

He says it is not fair to expect disabled students to pass their examinations with flying colours when they are not competing on a level playing field with students without disabilities.

Murugeswaran says aside from the lack of facilities for the disabled in schools and other places of learning, such as public libraries, disabled students face other obstacles as well.

"If you're wheelchair-bound, you will face problems in getting transportation to school. If you're blind, the only library where you can get 'talking materials' is at the Malaysian Association for the Blind. Even the National Library does not have that facility."

Murugeswaran says the government could also consider lowering the bar for disabled students applying for scholarships.

"There are only a few students with disabilities who can achieve excellent results despite their limitations but for the others, we should still have a way for them to pursue courses with the grades that they have achieved," he says.

Currently, many disabled students may not even bother to apply for a scholarship from the PSD as they know that they do not meet the minimum criteria.

"These students end up going to the Welfare Department and they will be sent to a vocational training centre in Bangi to learn to sew and make handicraft."

Not many private bodies offer scholarships for disabled students either. There is the Shell Centenary Scholarship for Disabled Students but it is open only to disabled students from Sarawak.

"Disability does not prevent students from having the passion to further their studies. The association gets calls from corporations seeking to hire the disabled as receptionists and telephone operators. We shouldn't be limited to these kinds of jobs.

"Unfortunately, it will be hard to go further without a paper qualification. This is where the government should step in to provide the necessary assistance," he says.

The association has to date, obtained funding from generous individuals to enable two disabled students to pursue their studies. 

Recently, it was reported that two disabled students had failed to get scholarships. They will now get to pursue their studies after appealing to the PSD.

One of the students is Teoh Bee Kah, who was born with the nystagmus condition (a form of involuntary eye movement).

The government is being urged to consider lowering the bar for disabled students applying for scholarships.

She was awarded a full scholarship for an 18-month Foundation in Business Studies course at the University of Nottingham's Malaysian campus in Semenyih.

Teoh, who is from Penang, scored 4A+, 3As and 3A- in last year's SPM examination.