Have you seen students with disabilities before? Then you are not alone.

This article investigates the different classifications of disabilities and general advice on maintaining a positive outlook as a tertiary student.


The Persons with Disability Act 2008 (Malaysia) defines a person with disabilities as “including those who have long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society”.


While there may be different classifications of disabilities, we will concentrate on the six categories of disabilities as proposed by the Malaysian government.

The Population and Housing Census of Malaysia (2000) cited in UNESCAP (2011) categorizes disabilities according to sight, hearing, speech, physical, slow learning, mental and explains as follows:

Sight: Includes blind persons, those with poor eyesight, low vision and loss of both eyes. Those with poor eyesight wearing spectacles or contact lenses and those with corrected eyesight are not included in this category.

Hearing: Inclusive of deafness, partial deafness, loss of hearing (but able to speak) resulting in difficulty with study at school and prospects in suitable employment or being self-employed.

Speech: Inclusive of inability to speak (dumb) normally having difficulty studying at normal schools and also less prospects in getting suitable employment or being self-employed.

Limbs: Inclusive of handicaps such as amputation of hand/feet, paralysis (including polio), weak backbone or muscles, deformed body structure, dwarfs etc. Loss of a small body parts such as a finger is not considered as being handicapped.

Mental: Includes slow learners, brain damage and mental disorder. A person with mental disorder is defined by imbalance between biological and mental age. Also includes cerebral palsy or spastic due to brain damage caused by virus infections, haemorrhage etc, leading to brain dysfunction.

Mental disorder can be subdivided into Intellectual and Psychological – not included in the definition of mental disorder

Others: Inclusive of autism

Ministry of Education (Malaysia) support for students with disabilities

The Ministry of Education in Malaysia has set up a special education division that caters to the needs of students with disabilities (students with special needs).

According to the Ministry’s website, the special education division has set up special education service centers that work with specialized agencies in providing professional services (such as audiology services, sign language classes, therapeutic activities, counseling to students and reference services as required), services to help and advice on special education, social welfare, education and career prospects for individuals with special needs, provide information materials related to special education to be disseminated to the community.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education has established special schools that cater for students with special needs.

These schools educate students with distressed vision, sight, hearing and learning.

Moreover, the Ministry of Education provides special allowance rates for students with disabilities enrolled in their special schools as an added incentive to encourage integration of students with special needs into the society.

Proper outlook for students with disabilities

In his book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, an excellent example of a proper outlook to disability is worth highlighting here. That outlook is a POSITIVE ATTITUDE.

Napoleons’ story (chapter one - Desire) is about his son who was born with no physical sign of ears. The doctors concluded the child might be deaf and mute for life.

When the time came that children would normally begin talking, the boy made no attempt to speak although Napoleon felt the child had a slight capacity to hear.

In an effort to encourage his sons’ hearing, he bought a phonograph to play music to his son and observed that his son would clamp his teeth on the edge of the phonograph case.

It was years later that Napoleon would understand the principle of bone conduction of sound.

Napoleon constantly sold the idea to his son that he has an advantage when he starts a newspaper business because when people see him without ears he would be regarded as an industrious boy and might be given extra money for his hard work.

At seven, his son borrowed six cents for the newspaper business and made a net profit of forty two cents. Furthermore, when a new hearing aid was developed and ready to be tested, one was sent to his son for trial.

Although reluctant to try, he did try and wow! he was able to hear very well. His world has changed. But he did not stop there. He researched on the company’s’ target market and wrote a two year marketing plan for the sales of the hearing aid.

When he presented his plan to the company that provided him the hearing aid, he was given a position for the purpose of carrying out his ambition.

Napoleon's conclusion which is the main point of this episode is that:

…….there is no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge. Both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought………

Therefore, excepting mental retardation, a positive attitude is a critical factor in overpowering and overcoming any limitation including disabilities. The author agrees with Napoleon (1983) that opportunities can hide behind a thin veil of a bad situation.

When this is realized, work begins in looking for that advantage.

While mental retardation makes the individual incapacitated, all other disabilities are merely limitations that can be defeated given enough desire, faith and persistence.

Does Napoleon son’s experience illustrate that disabled persons can be outstanding entrepreneurs and successful? Of course, evidence abounds.

Please read the life story of Helen Keller, the American author and lecturer who was a deaf and blind that earned a Bachelors of Arts degree. A confirmation, according to Napoleon, that ‘no one ever is defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality’.

Moreover, please read the life story of Beethoven and John Milton who were deaf and blind respectively and be convinced of the opportunities waiting for you to uncover in your situation.

If you need to develop the mindset of an entrepreneur to maximize all the advantages of your situation, please read our article Developing the mindset of an entrepreneur. Moreover, these lessons also apply to students not challenged with any disability.

Please sit back and ponder on what made Helen Keller, Beethoven and John Milton successful in their chosen occupations? It was a positive attitude.

Please also note that the man who says he cannot can’t, and the man who says he can – wins. This also applies to students with disabilities.

Never condemn a successful future to a failure because of a limitation for, of course, most if not all humans are limited in some way, just that some are more limited than others. But the man that seeks to surmount his limitations succeeds.

In conclusion, never forget that the difference between failure (including students with disabilities or not) and success is and has always been a positive attitude.

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UNESCAP 2011, Workshop on improving disability data for policy use,23-26 September 2003, Bangkok, Thailand.

Persons with Disability Act 2008 (Malaysia).

Ministry of Higher Education 2011, Ministry of Higher Education: special education division, Malaysia. .

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