The theme for the International Day of Disabled Persons (IDDP) 2007 is “Decent Work for Persons with Disabilities.” The United Nations has set up a page to suggest how this day can be observed. The international body also states that 80% of disabled persons of working age are unemployed. It is generally accepted that disabled persons constitute 10% of the total population. Hypothetically, in the Malaysian context, that amounts to a staggering 2.16 million jobless people.
There are many interlinked factors why disabled people are unable to get employment. Public transport is not accessible. Without an accessible public transport, disabled people are unable to go to school or commute to work. At the same time, most schools, the built environment and work places are inaccessible and limit the mobility of disabled people.
Society in general still harbour prejudices against disabled people, employers included. Due to the lack of understanding of disability issues, employers prefer the easier way out by not employing disabled people. On the other hand, some employers hire disabled persons purely as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) exercise rather than based on the qualifications of the applicant and the needs of the company involved. Disabled people should not be reduced to performing menial tasks in their workplaces and being paid a pittance for their effort.
Malaysia will be observing this significant day on December 4, 2007 at the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel. The event will be officiated by wife of the Prime Minister Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah. The one subject that will be most talked about during and after the event will be the tabling of the Disabled Persons Bill in the Parliament on December 10. According to the report by NST, there are five main parts to the bill, including the role of the national council for the disabled, the creation of a registry of the disabled and the appointment of a chief registrar. The Bill was first drafted in 2002.
The Bill, when passed by Parliament, will be a momentous milestone for protecting the rights of disabled persons in Malaysia. However, legislation without enforcement is ineffective. The impotence of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A of the Street, Drainage and Building Act is one such glaring example. Local governments who are responsible for enforcing the accessibility standards are themselves blatant violators of the law.
Likewise, disabled persons themselves must first understand their rights and advocate for it without fear or favour. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) must move from the charity- and welfare-based approach to a rights-based one. It is time that disabled persons stand up against discrimination and injustices instead of just accepting such acts as the norm of society. As long as disabled persons do not value their own dignity and demand for their rightful place in society, they will forever be marginalised and forgotten.