Why this Malaysian woman with short stature champions disability rights


Ruziah travels all over the country for motivational talks in her car which has been modified to cater to her needs. Photos: The Star/Sheela Chandran

Consultant and trainer Dr Ruziah Ghazali, 60, may be a person of short stature, but she stands tall in her focus on social work, particularly in addressing the needs of people with disabilities (OKU).

Over the last three decades, she has achieved a great deal, from publishing a string of research papers and two books (Expediting Your Quantitative Research and Indahkah Bercinta Lagi) to being honoured as the Figure of The Felda Generation 2022 and Negri Sembilan’s Social Welfare Department 2021 Figure of The Person With Disabilities.

“Advocacy and fighting for important causes have become essential aspects of my life because of the belief that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities. I see myself as a ‘fighter’ for those who may face discrimination or lack a voice. This passion stems from my own experiences and the desire to create a more inclusive and just society.

“I am passionate about various causes including advocating for the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities, promoting inclusive education, and working towards gender equality,” said Ruziah during an interview in Puchong, Selangor recently.

Ruziah has dedicated herself to actively participating in community development and human resource training across various organisations. Ruziah has dedicated herself to actively participating in community development and human resource training across various organisations.

People of short stature, also known as little persons or individuals with dwarfism, face medical conditions where they are born with disproportionate short stature.

According to understandingdwarfism.com, dwarfism can be caused by one of more than 200 different types of dwarfism, with a child with dwarfism born in every 10,000 births. It is estimated that there are 3,200 people of short stature in Malaysia.

Ruziah, who holds a PhD in Training Management, aims to contribute to shaping Malaysia into a country where inclusivity is embedded in the community, eliminating the differentiation between abled and disabled individuals.

Ruziah (left) has dedicated herself to actively participating in community development and human resource training. Photo: Dr Ruziah Ghazali Ruziah (left) has dedicated herself to actively participating in community development and human resource training. Photo: Dr Ruziah GhazaliShe adds that many people with dwarfism encounter a spectrum of challenges, encompassing physical, social and systemic barriers.

“Everyone, regardless of physical abilities, deserves respect, equality and opportunities. Advocacy has become a natural extension of my desire to contribute to a more compassionate and inclusive world,” said Ruziah, who headed the Department of Information’s Disabled Person Empowerment Communication branch in Putrajaya until last December.

Over the past three decades, she has dedicated herself to actively participating in community development, the needs of single mothers, asnaf (zakat recipients) and human resource training across various organisations. Her commitment extends to presenting insightful papers and proposals at various levels, focusing on issues related to the rights of the disabled.

Additionally, she has contributed her expertise on disability and women’s rights on numerous TV talk shows and articles in several newspapers.

The petite woman travels all over the country for motivational talks in her car, which has been modified to cater to her needs.

Confronting prejudice

Ruziah, who is based in Kajang, Selangor, attributes her determination to overcome challenges and succeed to her late father, Felda settler Ghazali Pie.

Her father recognised her uniqueness as a special child and paid close attention to her interests. In school, he advised her to focus on learning, disregarding any perceptions others may have about her physical condition.

Ruziah envisions a society where everyone, regardless of physical abilities, is valued and empowered. Ruziah envisions a society where everyone, regardless of physical abilities, is valued and empowered.

“Sadly, my father passed away when I was just 12. Then, I witnessed my mother’s commitment to raising my seven siblings and me. She started her day at 4am to prepare meals, then went to work in the rubber plantation as a Felda settler.

“My mother shared stories about my father’s active involvement in various societal organisations within Felda. He served as a secretary for the mosque committee, chairman for Felda’s Development and Safety Plan Committee, and secretary for a political party in the Felda branch. His dedication inspired me to emulate his commitment and work ethics,” said Ruziah, who grew up in Felda Bukit Rokan Gemencheh, Tampin in Negri Sembilan.

‘My journey has been fuelled by the belief that everyone, regardless of physical abilities, deserves respect, equality, and opportunities,’ says Ruziah. Photo: Dr Ruziah Ghazali‘My journey has been fuelled by the belief that everyone, regardless of physical abilities, deserves respect, equality, and opportunities,’ says Ruziah. Photo: Dr Ruziah GhazaliShe believes parents play a crucial role in creating an inclusive environment for children with dwarfism.

“Parental support helps build resilience by teaching coping strategies, problem-solving skills and a positive mindset. By investing in the child’s development, parents contribute to their long-term quality of life, increasing the likelihood of meaningful employment, social connections and overall satisfaction,” said Ruziah, the honorary advisor for the Little People National Organisation of Malaysia.

She encourages parents of children with special needs to instil resilience in their kids, empowering them to confront societal prejudice.

“In school, I remember a moment when I asserted my equality, telling my peers that we are all created by God. I reminded them I am in the first class while they are in the back classes. This direct approach silenced them and established a sense of equality.

“Instead of letting these instances bring me down, I use them as motivation to improve myself. It was crucial for me to approach these challenges with a positive mindset and an understanding of the diversity in the creation of Allah.”

Pushing for an inclusive society

Ruziah’s advice to OKUs facing challenges is that the keys to achieving their goals lie in self-development and resilience.

“If individuals with disabilities seek respect and support from others, they must focus on increasing their knowledge. This can be achieved through formal education, non-formal learning, and informal educational experiences. Enhance your skills too.

“By developing their abilities, individuals with disabilities can showcase their talents and capacities, fostering a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. By focusing on personal development, setting goals and embracing the support of both the community and a higher power, individuals facing challenges can navigate their journey with confidence and achieve their aspirations.”

Ruziah's advice to PWDs facing challenges is in the belief that self-development, and resilience are key to achieving one's goals.Ruziah's advice to PWDs facing challenges is in the belief that self-development, and resilience are key to achieving one's goals.

Looking ahead, her vision is to enhance the well-being of the vulnerable group, focusing on employment and social development.

“A crucial aspect of my vision is to create and facilitate employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. By collaborating with various stakeholders, including businesses and educational institutions, my aim is to establish inclusive employment practices that empower OKUs to actively contribute to the workforce and achieve economic independence.

“I also wish to work towards implementing programmes and initiatives that address their unique needs, ensuring that their physical, mental and emotional well-being is prioritised.”

She also envisions the establishment of a robust ecosystem for persons with disabilities.

“Hopefully there will be the implementation of a comprehensive social development model that promotes inclusivity and equal participation for persons with disabilities. This model will encompass educational, recreational and community engagement programmes, fostering a sense of belonging and encouraging active involvement in societal activities.

“My future endeavours are aligned with a holistic vision that goes beyond individual success to encompass a broader commitment to community service. By prioritising the well-being of the vulnerable group, creating employment opportunities, implementing a social development model, and establishing a supportive eco-system, I aim to contribute to the realisation of an inclusive Malaysia where persons with disabilities are valued, empowered and integrated seamlessly into all aspects of society.”


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Disability , Dwarfism , Dr Ruziah Ghazali , OKU ,

   

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