Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi unveiled the Northern Corridor Economic Region blueprint on July 30. The NCER programme is a government initiative to accelerate economic growth and elevate income levels in the north of Peninsular Malaysia, covering Perlis, Kedah, Penang and northern Perak. According to Bernama, its key thrusts are to transform and expand the agricultural, manufacturing, tourism and logistics sectors in the region.
Penang was also declared as the logistics and transportation hub for the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) through the implementation of several massive projects namely the expansion of Penang Port and the Penang International Airport, the RM2 billion integrated terminal for rail, road and sea travel known as “Penang Sentral” and the development of the RM18bil Penang Global City Centre (PGCC) project. The initiative to develop the area into a world class economic region by 2015 will certainly bring prosperity to the people in the northern states and to Malaysians in general.
Datuk Seri Abdullah must ensure that all these projects adopt an inclusive policy to make possible for disabled persons to have equal opportunity to benefit from the massive development that is to take place. This consists of making the built environment such as buildings and walkways barrier-free, safe and functional. All public transport including the integrated rail, ferry, monorail in the Penang Sentral must also take into account the needs of people with reduced mobility and disabled persons.
An accessible environment and public transport system provide freedom to disabled persons to move around conveniently and affordably in performing tasks of daily living. This includes going to school, work, socialise, and participate in cultural, religious and political activities. Additionally, such accessibility will also attract tourists with reduced mobility such as senior citizens to visit Malaysia.
Datuk Seri Abdullah must also make sure that disabled persons can benefit from these projects through employment and other economic activities. Many disabled persons are unemployed or unable to get employment due to obstacles in the environment and public transport. Another reason is the perception of society towards disabled persons, thinking that we are inefficient and unable to perform duties entrusted to us. This, of course, is a misconception.
In conclusion, since these projects are planned from ground up there is no reason whatever not to include the needs of disabled persons at the planning stages to guarantee that at the completion of the project we are not left out again. Disabled persons have as much rights as anyone else to reap the windfall from this unprecedented growth in the northern region of Malaysia. Therefore, I humbly remind Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah to not forget or ignore disabled persons anymore. We have suffered for 50 years since our nation’s independence. Please do not let us undergo the same hardships anymore. We want to live independently and have the dignity to make choices and achieve self-determination. We just want to enjoy what non-disabled persons have taken granted for so long. Is that too much to ask for?