As participants of the Training of Managerial Personnel of Independent Living Centers (ILC) and Peer-Counselors for People with Disabilities organised by the Asia-Pacific Development Centre on Disability (APCD) in Bangkok, we are required to submit a Pre-Training Report on disability in the area we are working in. I will be working closely with my peers in Penang and Kuala Lumpur on this project but Penang will be my main focus. Apart from Malaysia, participants were also invited from Pakistan and the Philippines.
Five Independent Living Leaders from Malaysia will be attending the Independent Living Centres (ILC) Course from February 28 to March 7. Two of us will stay back to continue with Peer Counselor Course from March 9 to March 17. I am one of the two selected to attend both courses. During my training in Japan in January, I have learnt the basics of managing an ILC. I have also attended several basic Peer Counseling sessions in September last year at the Independent Living Workshop and further training again in Japan. One needs to undergo one Basic Training Course and a compulsory 40-hour Training Course to become a certified Peer Counselor.
Below is part of the Pre-Training Report that I submitted:
TRAINING OF MANAGERIAL PERSONNEL OF INDEPENDENT LIVING CENTERS (ILC)
AND PEER-COUNSELORS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
ASIA-PACIFIC DEVELOPMENT CENTER ON DISABILITY
FEBRUARY 28 – MARCH 17 2006.
Penang State consists of the Penang Island and Seberang Perai. Penang Island is divided into two districts – Timur Laut and Barat Daya. My main area of focus in introducing Independent Living Programme is in the state capital of Georgetown and its suburbs which is located in the Timur Laut District. The state of Penang has an estimated population of 1,468,800. The Timur Laut District has an estimated population of 483,000 as of end 2005.
The statistics from the Department of Social Welfare Malaysia in 2003 stated that there were 8,165 persons with disabilities registered with the department in Penang. As registration is not compulsory, the figures could be much higher. The estimated population in Penang in 2003 was 1,416,900 and the population in the Timur Laut District was 469,400.
With no accurate data, the factor of 1% had been used by various sources including local authorities to estimate the number of disabled persons. That would put the estimated figure of disabled persons in the Timur Laut District at 4,830 in the year ending 2005.
The problems faced by people with disabilities in Penang include but not limited to education, accessibility, transport, job opportunities and a proper support system. A majority of mainstream schools for formal education lack accessibility for wheelchair users and students with mobility problems. Laboratories and libraries are often located in upper floors and are out of reach for them. The deaf, visually impaired, intellectually impaired and those with cerebral palsy are placed in special schools. This form of segregation prohibits this group of people from interacting and integrating with the larger society in their formative years.
The state government has recognised that accessibility is important for people with disabilities. Parts of the Inner City, banking district and Upper Penang Road was renovated and refurbished. The accessible features include walkways with guide strips and kerb ramps, accessible parking spaces and pedestrian crossings. This is only a small area of the Timur Laut District. A large portion of the suburbs are still not accessible.
Likewise, access into buildings are still lacking. Ramps are not properly constructed. Control panels in most elevators are not fitted at a suitable level for wheelchair users, and lacked Braille. Digital floor announcer is very rarely installed in elevators to aid the visually impaired. Accessible toilets are not built to specifications. Many of these toilets are not functioning due to vandalism and poor maintenance.
There is no accessible public transport in the whole of the Penang state. Wheelchair users have to depend on alternative modes of transport such as taxis and assistance from family and friends. Taxis are expensive and most times do not follow the rates set by the authorities. Additionally, many taxis refuse to pick up wheelchair users.
Some multinationals and local companies are employing people with disabilities. Again, there is no reliable data to ascertain accurately the numbers of gainfully employed disabled persons in Penang. The barriers to employment for people with disabilities are lack of qualifications and skills, a non-barrier free environment and non-accessible public transportation, among others. This is a cascading effect and a cycle of the problems stemming from the lack of formal educational opportunities and a non-accessible public transport system.
The support system for people with disabilities in Penang, and for that matter, in Malaysia, is still very much centred on the medical model of rehabilitation and welfare-based. The onus of looking after the newly disabled person after being discharged from hospitals at most times fell on the family, failing which they were sent to institutions or nursing homes.