The Independent Living Movement subscribes to the philosophy of consumerism. Practitioners of Independent Living want to be consumers of the services that they require. As consumers, they have the ability to control the standard of service and goods provided. This is a paradigm shift from the traditional mindset of disabled persons being the recipients of charity, welfare and volunteerism.
When it comes to charity, the recipients are mostly in a position of passivity. The assistance provided are often according to the perception of what the benefactors think disabled persons need. The perception may not always be correct. The recipients do not have a say in what is given to them lest they be deemed to look at a gift horse in the mouth.
In Malaysia, we have not reached a stage where all disabled persons can practice consumerism due to economic factors. When they are not gainfully employed, they have to depend on the mercy of their family and carers for all their needs. In such circumstances, they are not in a position to dictate what they require.
It is a vicious cycle. In the end, this group of people are reduced to a state where they have to accept whatever that is dished out to them, whether they like it or not. They lose their dignity and the ability of self-determination. What is the value of life then? They not only are prisoners in their own bodies but trapped in a society that sees them as charity cases and nothing else.
The burden of caring for them should not fall solely on the family. The state must play a major role in ensuring that their rights and dignity are protected. This can be achieved by first making available a range of support services and aids to assist them in their daily living. These all must consumercentric services where they have the final say in how they want it provided.
Nobody likes to be compelled to accept goods and services that do not conform to their standards. Likewise, disabled persons should not be obligated to accept the same. We, as a society, must move away from viewing them as perpetually helpless people needing welfare handouts to providing them with opportunities that can empower them to lead fulfilling lives. Consumerism is the way to achieve that.