At Universiti Malaya, much is being done to assist disabled students in workforce readiness and career development via efforts by the Students With Disability Management unit of the Psychology Management & Counselling section of the institution’s Student Affairs Division.
The university currently has 75 undergraduate and postgraduate students who fall under various disability categories — from physically impaired, visually impaired, hearing impaired to learning disabilities like autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ADD (attention deficit disorder) and dyslexia.
The unit’s administration officer Muhammad Firdaus Abu Hassan, a 29-year-old blind graduate who holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology and a Masters in Professional Counselling from UM, said that apart from academic and personal counselling, the university held a variety of programmes for disabled students like career workshops, employability seminars and even job coaching.
“At a workshop for the visually impaired last December, for example, we gave the students a feel of real-life job recruitments by holding mock interviews for each participant. Disabled students don’t often get to experience this and the simulation was a good introduction to what they should expect when called for a job interview,” he said.
As a job coach recognised by the Department of Social Welfare, Firdaus also acts as an intermediary between students and employers for internship stints or work placements.
What this entails is helping students familiarise with the workplace and knowing what is expected of them besides setting realistic employer expectations of what the students can do.
“In the case of students with learning disabilities, they will have difficulties in social communications. But when they are given a task to do, they can complete the job with competence. “Most students with learning disabilities at UM take technical courses like IT and engineering.
“I convey to employers that they should assess students on how well they can deliver the jobs even if socially, the students generally lack communication skills,” he said.
UM is also working on job matching through discussions with job recruitment platforms like Graduan.
“We hope that at this year’s job fair, there will be at least a few inclusive employers who will provide employment opportunities for disabled graduates,” he said.
While the university have many programmes and initiatives, Firdaus said students too must play their part by building their career preparedness.
“This does not mean just going to classes and getting high scores or working on resumes and grooming. Self-development is important. At job interviews, employers do not ask about what you studied at university. They want to know whether you can prepare project proposals, do presentations, and whether you are a team player and show initiative.
“Based on my experience, this can all be developed at university. Despite my blindness, I made sure I mixed with normal students. I joined and helmed associations. I participated in cultural activities and sports. This built up my communication skills and my confidence. I was more outgoing — all of which came in handy when I began job-hunting,” said the Yayasan Sime Darby scholar.
He advised fellow PWDs to take on even short-term jobs.
“The private sector will usually be proactive in offering job opportunities compared to the public sector. Whatever the job specifications, the experience gained is invaluable. Have a positive attitude and stay motivated. Persevere and you will eventually find something suitable for you,” he said.