GIVEN the opportunity, people with physical and learning disabilities wish to excel in life and lead a normal life.
Their potential in contributing to society and earning a living, has not gone unnoticed as several companies are in the forefront, in giving the disabled an opportunity to work.
StarMetro spoke to several organisations that hire the disabled.
These employers confessed that their disabled employees were hardworking, and loyal to the company.
GCH Retail (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, the operator of Giant, has in its employ 76 disabled staff.
Fourty-six of them work in stores located in the Klang Valley.
The disabled hired comprise slow learners, those confined to wheelchairs and the hearing impaired.
GCH Retail Human Resource director Malini Vijaya Rajah said the disabled staff were given the same treatment as able-bodied employees.
However, the management and co-workers are mindful to provide emotional support and assist them when necessary.
"They are naturally hardworking, and two have been promoted to supervisory level.
"We also have long-serving staff, with one particular employee who has been with us for 20 years," she said.
Malini added that more businesses should consider hiring the disabled as they were part of society.
Based on the company's findings, this group has a flair for baking and handling fresh goods, such as meat, very well, she said.
However, challenges outside the workplace, hindered many from joining the workforce.
"More disabled would be out in the workforce if public infrastructure, amenities and the surrounding is disabled friendly,
"They could be more independent if these amenities were in place," she said.
Mohd Helmi Abdullah, 29, has served Giant Bayan Lepas in Penang for nine years.
He suffers from muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair at work.
He commutes to work in his specially-fitted motorcycle.
Helmi is well respected among his peers and his superiors for his work efficiency.
He has served in various departments and was promoted as the Goods Receiving supervisor.
When asked of the challenges he faced at work, Helmi said he had to prove himself more, compared to his able-bodied colleagues.
"I have to work extra hard to prove that I am capable," he said.
Helmi shoulders a heavy job responsibility as he is required to check and approve all goods delivered by the suppliers.
"Looking out for cunning suppliers are among my work challenges as some think they can trick me and those under my supervision by giving us faulty goods.
"I tell my co-workers to alert me quickly when the 'difficult' suppliers arrive.
"I am very stern with the suppliers and they know it," said the small framed but feisty Helmi.
He dreams of becoming a department head, and starting a family when he meets the right woman.
He advised others like him to stay focused at work and to highlight their concerns to their employers to seek an amicable solution.
Sales assistant Muzaki Huzam, 37, is a slow learner, and has served Giant USJ for 20 years.
His job is to ensure the oven's heat for baked products is at the right temperature and he hardly makes mistakes.
Muzaki's father sends him to work and he takes the bus home.
Slow learner Wong Wei Kien, 39 is a sales assistant at the baby products section at Giant Bandar Kinrara.
Wong has served Giant for five years and loves her work environment as her peers are friendly.
She walks to work daily.
QSR Brands (M) Holdings Sdn Bhd, the operator of the KFC fast food restaurant chain, is one of the first companies to hire the disabled, dating back to 1986.
KFC first started its community restaurant at Jalan Imbi, where it hired people who had speech and hearing impairment.
The restaurant was later relocated to Jalan Ipoh, and is now located at Sentul Raya.
At present, KFC operates three of such eateries - at Sentul Raya, Tanjung Aru in Sabah and Saujana in Sarawak. KFC Malaysia is the first in the world to operate a store that was fully run by speech- and hearing- impaired staff.
The project has been KFC's pride for the past 26 years.
The project was undertaken to help the disabled lead an independent living, said a QSR Brands (M) Holdings Sdn Bhd spokesman.
During a visit to the Sentul Raya restaurant, StarMetro found that customers had no difficulties placing their orders.
Even during rush hours and having to deal with a large number of customers, the disabled had no problems with the orders.
The queue moved fast, and maybe even faster than most other fast food restaurants, based on this reporter's observation.
There are lights attached to the ceiling of each floor, and at the different areas of the restaurant.
A blue light informs the employee to gather at the counter for further instructions.
"Since its inception more than 350 disabled people, have been hired by KFC at thesestores.
"At present, there are more than 60 disabled working at thethree restaurants," he said.
Some of the staff have moved up the ranks, and are serving as restaurant managers.
The longest serving staff in the Sentul Raya restaurant is Norsiah Hashim. She has served KFC for 32 years and has no plans to find another job.
She is married and has three able-bodied daughters.
She meet her husband, who was her former co-worker at KFC.
Assistant restaurant manager Ram Kumar Kumaran Balan said he preferred working with the disabled because they have no complaints.
"They will only return home once their work is done and work, independently," he said.
The KFC located at Saujana in Sarawak, is managed entirely a group of people with speech and hearing.
The restaurant manager Ting Hing Sung started off as a lobby staff and has served KFC for 15 years. He too has hearing disabilities.
Most staff were hired based on recommendation by their peers, who were existing workers at KFC.
Those hired are trained by a qualified trainer.
"Their hearing and speech impairment is not a major obstacle at work.
"They are generally hardworking individuals and they know they have career advancement prospects, here.
"This encourages them to prove themselves at work. They are happy with their jobs and are driven with the opportunity given, to rise up the ranks," said the spokesman.