Disability then and now – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 14 June, 2014

Disability then and now
Posted on June 14, 2014, Saturday

GERMAN attorney Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche co-authored the book ‘Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Living’ in 1920. They argued for the killing of people who were mentally ill and those with incurable conditions. Their work was to become the precursor to the genocide of disabled people by the Nazis.

In 1933, the Third Reich enacted the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, six months after Adolf Hitler was named chancellor. An estimated 400,000 people with hereditary, intellectual and congenital impairments were forcefully sterilised under this ruling to prevent them from producing `inferior’ children.

This practice of eugenics, the act of weeding out people judged to have genetic flaws, was to ensure the purity of the Aryan master race gene pool. The Nazis embraced this ideology with the purpose of creating a superior race to eventually rule the world.

The regime ran propaganda campaigns against disabled people by describing them as having lives unworthy of living. Films were produced to show the great disadvantages they faced in their lives. Literatures were created with the intention of swaying public opinion by illustrating the massive cost required to support one blind or deaf child.

They were deemed ‘useless eaters’ who consumed valuable resources without contributing anything useful in return. Their lives were seen as meaningless and imposing a heavy burden on their families and society. Euthanasia was promoted as the `gentle death’ to end the sufferings.

Killings of disabled children and adults began in 1939 by lethal injections, starvation or in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms. By the end of World War II in 1945, approximately 270,000 disabled people were murdered with these methods before the Nazis were defeated.

The United Nations subsequently defined and refined the specific rights all human beings are inherently entitled to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.

These rights were further expanded and protected under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. This international rights treaty now has 158 signatories and 147 parties.

We have come a long way since. Nonetheless, after all these years, despite the acceptance of the international instruments on rights, negative attitudes towards disability still persist although these are unrelated to the writings of Binding and Hoche, or Nazi ideologies. They are natural reactions from people who are unfamiliar with disabled people.

Living with severe impairments is considered a fate worse than death. This line of thinking is often employed in campaigns against drunk driving. Images of people with severe impairments were used to illustrate that driving in a state of inebriation can result in devastating consequences.

Contrary to popular belief, we are not suicidal. We value life. We are not trapped in a fate that is worse than death. True, we struggle with environmental and attitudinal barriers every day, and put in 200 per cent effort to make something of our lives. We do what we have to do to move on in life.

Another prevailing perception is that disabled people are burdens to their families and society. The notion of burden is the cost we place on the inconvenience we think other people have to suffer to provide for our needs.

In the civilised society that we live in, one that has achieved an advanced state of social, cultural and technological development, the welfare of each member should ideally be provided for according to their needs and the capabilities of the society as a collective.

People with severe impairments in some developed countries are given all the support they require to live independently in their communities. Their participation and inclusion are valued and seen as a right rather than a burden. They are given equal opportunities to become productive and contribute meaningfully back. Therefore, the notion of burden is fallacious to a certain extent in this context.

Lastly, cost has often been used as a factor to deny the provision of accessible facilities and support services. The logic proffered is that it does not make economical sense to invest in facilities that is going to be used by only a small segment of society. Governments and private entities giving such excuses are shirking their social responsibilities in contravention of international conventions and domestic disability rights legislations and open themselves to discrimination lawsuits.

The more we change the more we stay the same. These issues are similar but have evolved into a different form. While there is little chance for the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis to be repeated in this era, I have a fear that we are faced with another problem unique to our present time.

With the rapid advancement of robotic technology and stem cell therapy, there is a tendency for many disabled people to progressively lean towards that direction while placing less emphasis on advocating for the removal of barriers.

It is undeniable these innovations can improve function and mobility. Still, they are experimental and expensive, their cost beyond the affordability of most disabled people. Moreover, not everyone can benefit from them. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the movement to push for accessibility and inclusion continue unabated and not allow it to be overshadowed by progress in these other fields.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/06/14/disability-then-and-now/#ixzz361Qy4h00

Get off the screen and get bonding again – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 7 June, 2014

Get off the screen and get bonding again
by Peter Tan. Posted on June 7, 2014, Saturday

TODDLERS in prams burying their noses in smartphones or tablets are common sights nowadays.

They can be so engrossed with the devices that they become oblivious to their surroundings. This is not a new phenomenon. It started when the newer generations of mobile phones came with simple built-in games.

One thing I have noticed often in relatives and friends is that they allow their children access to these devices to keep them occupied.
We all know that kids can become edgy very quickly when left unattended.

The interactive nature of these devices keeps the little ones busy while the parents could carry on with their own activities without interruption.

How the times have changed. I was not even allowed to touch the only electronic appliance the family owned, the cassette player-transistor radio, when I was seven.

Whenever I got bored playing with the neighbourhood kids I would bug my mother to take me to my aunt’s house. She is the younger of my mother’s two sisters and lived just a stone’s throw away from us.

The two-minute journey by foot was always full of anticipation. My aunt has three sons and two daughters. While she and my mother were busy chitchatting, her youngest son Ah Huat – who is a few years older – would take me along on his escapades around the village to play folk games, fly kites and spin tops.

There was always something new each time we got together. Of all those activities, there is one that I remember most.
It all began with Ah Huat pulling two lidis (coconut midribs) off from his mother’s broom. He gave one to me. We took a short walk down to an old jackfruit tree where he plucked a leaf off a branch and twirled the lidi to coat the tip generously with the oozing sticky white liquid. I did the same with mine not knowing what it was for.

I followed him as he meandered through narrow paths then up a long flight of cemented steps leading to a Taoist temple. Halfway up, there was a break in the handrail revealing a trail almost concealed by a wall of dense thicket. We stirred up small clouds of dust behind us as we trampled over the bone-dry dirt of the path.

What greeted me beyond was unexpected. Crystal clear water was flowing out from an opening in the rock face, partially obscured by overgrown weeds on the banks.

We carefully made our way across the slippery rocks to a small pool a short distance away.

There, in the serenity of the gurgling spring, I saw this little creature perching on a reed. It had big eyes, delicate wings and an orange body with a long tapered tail. It darted away when I extended my hand towards it.

That was my first encounter with a dragonfly. I stood there, captivated by the flight of dragonflies in various vibrant colours darting around and hovering in succession.

Ah Huat squatted on the other side of the bank and was paying rapt attention to a dragonfly that was hovering above his head. I squatted along and observed him from where I was. When the dragonfly finally settled on a reed, he extended his lidi stealthily towards it.
With a swift flick, he tapped it with the tip coated with jackfruit sap. Instinctively, the dragonfly tried to dart away but it was stuck fast. So that was what the lidi coated with jackfruit sap was for.

He took out a kite line from his pocket and tied it around the dragonfly’s body. He then carefully pried it off the lidi. As soon as it was free, the dragonfly again tried to fly away but was restrained by the line.

I tried to catch one on my own but they always flew away before I could get close enough. After many failed attempts, Ah Huat let me play with his dragonfly instead. It is difficult to comprehend now how I could derive fun from the cruelty of just holding on to the line while watching the dragonfly desperately trying to escape.

When we were done playing for the day, Ah Huat untied the line to set it free.

Until today, I still get excited whenever I see dragonflies and am perfectly happy just watching them performing their aerial antics, having long outgrown the childhood urge to trap and restrain them for puerile pleasure. Those jaunts with Ah Huat were fun-filled days nonetheless.

Children growing up in urban settings nowadays seldom get to experience the excitement of the great outdoors like those of my era. Even so, they should be given every opportunity to get a feel of these adventures through nature hikes and excursions to recreational parks and realise that there is more to leisure pursuits than being riveted to their mobile devices all the time.

Just like recent calls for adults to peel themselves off their smartphones in order to cultivate healthier communication and social relationships with the people around them, children’s usage of such devices should be controlled and monitored for the same reasons.
It is beneficial for the family unit to spend time bonding with each other to maintain a positive and healthy relationship.

Like the saying goes, “The family that plays together, stays together.”

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/06/07/get-off-the-screen-and-get-bonding-again/#ixzz361QFcj9i

Mornings of discovery – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 31 May, 2014

Mornings of discovery
by Peter Tan. Posted on May 31, 2014, Saturday

MY family moved nearer to town when I was nine. The shift from the village where I lived till then was a drastic change, almost traumatic, for me. The new place was a single-storey terraced house with a fenced up compound. The main gate faced a thoroughfare that cut right across the housing estate. With a busy road in such close proximity, I was no longer allowed to scamper freely around the neighbourhood like I used to.

Around that time, my father who was living with mild heart failure decided to lead a healthier lifestyle. My mother would wake me up at five in the morning on weekends for us to accompany him on his four-mile walks. The sky was still dark at that hour, the air refreshingly cool and the well-lit roads relatively traffic-free.

The route was always the same. It took about an hour and ended at the market near where we used to live. The place was always a hive of activity by the time we arrived. Traders were doing brisk business while housewives were milling about between stalls, looking for the freshest vegetables and fish, and the best bargains to fill their already overloaded baskets.

We usually took a breather at one particular kopitiam where my father would enjoy a cup of coffee and a meal of nasi kandar for breakfast. The generous servings of meat curries with their oily gravies on the rice negated all the benefits of the exercise we had for the morning. My father, intentionally oblivious to that fact, heartily dug in with his hand — how such food is traditionally eaten.

After having satiated our appetites, we would catch a bus to go home. That was the routine we kept for many years. Honestly, I did not enjoy those walks. I did not enjoy being woken up that early in the morning. I was growing up. I needed sleep. Sometimes, I feigned lethargy to get out of it and my mother would let me be. That did not work all the time though.

In retrospect, getting up and about that early in the morning gave me perspectives I could never have gotten at other times. On the way out for our walks, we would occasionally cross paths with a crew of men in khaki shirts with matching shorts and sun hats. I have no idea why they wore sun hats before the crack of dawn.

An unmistakeable pong wafted in the air as they silently went about taking out buckets filled with human excrement from niches at the back of neighbouring houses, replacing them with empty ones and carrying the heavy buckets back to the truck parked by the side of the road.

I would hold my breath and walked away as fast as I could the times we bumped into them.

I could not fathom how they were not nauseated by doing something so filthy and unhygienic, and wondered how many times they had to bathe to get the stench off their bodies.

On our way back from the walks, we were often greeted by the friendly drain cleaner. He was a hard-working man, always armed with a cangkul for clearing the drains of sand, soil and trash. He would stop by the back of our house and ask for a glass of water to quench his thirst. We usually gave him a jug of iced syrup that he sipped slowly while regaling us with stories of his family.

Their making an honest living notwithstanding, they were still viewed with prejudice. Whenever my parents caught me playing instead of doing schoolwork, they would tell me, “If you don’t study hard, you’ll end up being a street sweeper or night soil collector.”

That was my parents’ way of motivating me. Such jobs were considered menial and suited for the illiterate and lowly-educated. It was a bad analogy that they uttered without giving much thought to. My parents were not the only ones guilty of this. I have heard my uncles and aunties giving my cousins the same warning. I eventually grew up accepting that notion too.

It took me a long time to recognise the important roles these manual labourers play in society. They were, and still are, the cogs that keep things running smoothly and unseen in the background although some of the tasks they performed then are no longer necessary now, like the night soil collectors who had to find other work when bucket latrines were replaced with flush toilets.

Imagine if there were no street sweepers, drain cleaners and garbage collectors. While what they do may not be glamorous or ground-breaking we cannot deny that a world without their service would be a miserable place that is filthy, smelly and disease-laden. Their contribution is not any less noble than that of doctors and teachers. They deserve as much respect as we accord to other professions.

As for waking up early, I still hate it. I get cranky if I do not get enough sleep. However, I no longer need to fake an excuse to keep myself in bed. I am actually lethargic all the time. I also realise now why my parents loved taking those walks. As much as it was supposedly for my father’s health, the serenity they experienced along the way gave them clarity of mind. It was no wonder they always looked fresh and animated when we got home.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/05/31/mornings-of-discovery/#ixzz361Pm5Xfb