The government’s appointment of a disabled person as a Senator is most welcomed. Congratulations to Prof Datuk Dr Ismail Md Salleh. However, with due respect to Dr Salleh, I would have preferred a person with mobility impairment, specifically a wheelchair user, to represent disabled people in the Parliament. As I see it, people with mobility impairments in Malaysia are facing a host of problems that has gone unresolved for decades.
Disabled people need someone who feels their pain to be an effective representative. While I do not deny that people with visual impairment have their own set of problems, the most marginalised group in the disabled community are people with severe physical impairments. They are unable to be part of mainstream society because the environment is fraught with barriers that restrict their independence in every possible way.
Ours is a government that is reactive. It takes a lot of advocacy and activism on the disabled community’s part to move the government. Even then, progress is slow. Look at the advocacy that the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) has been doing for the past year. BEAT has met Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen, Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy and government officers regarding this issue. Nothing came out of those meetings. Do not be misled by the wheelchair logo on some of the RapidKL buses. These buses are still inaccessible to wheelchair users.
Sometimes, I wonder if the government is serious in wanting to resolve problems faced by disabled people or they are just doing something for the sake of showing that they are doing something. Time and again, disabled people have been disappointed by empty promises. The Uniform Building By-Law 34A that was supposed to make the environment accessible is as worthless as the paper that it was printed on. The built environment is mostly still as inaccessible as it was before the by-law was gazetted in the 90s.
The government must understand that disabled people want equality, not charity. Charity is a temporary measure that does not empower or enable disabled people in the long run. When disabled people advocate, we should not been seen as asking for more from the pie. We are asking because we have been given crumbs. We have been marginalised for so long that we have almost forgotten how good the pie tastes.
Having said all that, the appointment of a disabled person as Senator is a positive move by the government. I sincerely hope that Dr Salleh will make an effort to truly understand issues faced by the disabled community. While issues like education, employment and accessibility are important, Dr Salleh must never forget the plight of people with severe disabilities who are often forgotten by society and even disability advocates. These are the people whom Dr Salleh’s must represent in the Parliament first and foremost.
Member of Parliament for Seputeh YB Teresa Kok made same pertinent points in her speech during the debate on the Disabled Persons Bill. The speech is available in her blog.