Mack and I had a brief chat yesterday regarding his entry I go, you no go in MonsterBlog. He recounted to me about Pak Ali who uses a wheelchair and “was waiting for his son to come pick him up and return to their home in Kampung Baru, and his son was running late. He felt bad that he had to trouble his son, but what can he do. Public transport is out of the question for him.”
Mack related how Pak Ali kept repeating that he “menyusahkan orang” because of his need for assistance and transport. There was a tinge of sadness in me when I read Mack’s message in MSN. There was no reason for Pak Ali to feel sorry whatsoever. It was not his fault that the public transport system did not make available facilities to accommodate his condition.
It has been ingrained in us that people with different needs are an inconvenience to other people. In truth, the people who have to apologise are those who did not see that needs such as Pak Ali’s are provided for. These are the myopic people in authority, officials and planners who have failed to perform to the fullest the social responsibilities that they were entrusted with.
Disabled persons are not an aberration of society. They are victims of mistaken beliefs by the majority that interprets their rights as societal burdens. Such prejudices have been perpetrated for so long that it has come to be accepted as the norm. Disabled persons are made to feel that their inability to participate fully in society is caused by their impairments rather than the unsuitable and inadequate set-up that surrounds them.
On a deeper level, the biggest challenge for disabled persons is not the environmental obstacles that they have to overcome. It is the way of thinking that sees them as people who need to be helped and treats them as such. This is the kind of mentality that is truly disabling. In many instances, such belief reduces disabled persons to charity cases, making them perpetually dependent on the mercy and generosity of the people around them to survive.
In helping disabled persons the ultimate and the most useful assistance must be one that helps him grow as a person. In Pak Ali’s case, the real assistance is not in helping to push him around in his wheelchair but in providing an environment that allows him to be as independent as possible and one that requires very little intervention from others. A barrier-free Malaysia in terms of environment and public transport will definitely make Pak Ali’s life and those of people like him more meaningful.