The United Nations estimates that there are 650 million disabled people in the world which corresponds to 10 percent of global population. 80 percent of these people live in developing countries, many in conditions of poverty. 80 percent of disabled people of employable age are jobless.

The United Nations Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states the following:

The fact that persons with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty is often the result of ignorance and neglect that is reinforced in Government and development policies and programmes that ignore, exclude, are not accessible to or do not support the rights of persons with disabilities to be included in the socio-economic life of the country.

1. Disabled People In Malaysia
In Malaysia, those statistics translate to 2.7 million disabled people. This does not include the number of senior citizens who become disabled through old age and illness. A total of 197,519 disabled people have registered with the Department of Social Welfare Malaysia (DSW) by the end of 2006. This figure is not a true reflection of the number of disabled people as registration is voluntary.

Disabled people are deprived of many of fundamental rights such as freedom of movement, education, employment, enjoying social life and even voting. To a large extent, schools, business premises, work places, public transport and public facilities are out of reach to disabled people. These factors cause disabled people to be further marginalised apart from the perception by society that they are objects of charity and are unable to lead fulfilling and independent lives.

Disabled people want to enjoy life’s fundamental experiences like everyone else. They want to go to school, get a job, get married, start a family, have a house to call their own and participate in social, cultural, religious and political activities. These all are not possible at the moment because of environmental and attitudinal barriers that are rife in society.

2. What Is Disability?
The general perception is that disability includes physical, visual, auditory and learning impairments. However, those impairments are not the reason why people are disabled. The Social Model of Disability states that people are disabled by social prejudices and environmental barriers, either purposely or inadvertently. People become disabled when society fails to accommodate and include them in all processes of social and infrastructural development.

Disability does not solely affect the person with impairment. The nuclear family and extended family are affected as well. In many cases, one member from the nuclear family has to stop working to care for the disabled person. Productivity within the nuclear family is vastly reduced and may cause financial hardship for the entire family.

3. The Issue – Accessibility
The built environment in Malaysia is generally inaccessible to disabled people. By-law 34A of the Uniform Building By-laws that requires all buildings to be accessible to disabled people is not strictly enforced. Malaysian Standard MS 1183: Part 8: 1990: Specifications for Fire Precautions in the Design and Construction of Buildings Part 8: Code of Practice for Means of Escape for Disabled People (MS 1183) and Malaysian Standard MS 1184: 2002 Code of Practice on Access for Disabled Persons to Public Buildings (MS 1184) that are employed in the By-law provide specifications for the construction of accessible facilities are not adhered to most of the time. Furthermore, there is no existing law to provide for accessibility outside buildings for disabled persons as specified in Malaysian Standard 1331: Code of Practice for Access for Disabled People Outside Buildings.

The lack of accessible environment within and without buildings makes it difficult for disabled people to integrate into the communities that they live in. They are unable to go out as walkways usually are not built with ramps and are fraught with barriers such as street furniture and uncovered drains that not only obstructs the passage but is liable to cause injury or death. Walkways that have ramps are usually not usable and dangerous as they do not comply with MS 1331.

4. A Barrier-Free Environment Enables Disabled People
A barrier-free environment is vital for the mobility of disabled people. It allows them to move around conveniently. This includes access to schools, shops, offices, hospitals and other places for social and recreational activities. A barrier-free environment is also the vital link for disabled people to access public transport in way of bus stops and bus hubs that complements non-step buses from RapidKL.

Many disabled people live in conditions of poverty. They cannot afford to own private vehicles. As such, public transport is the only affordable means for them to travel. A barrier-free environment will allow them access to public transport. This will then be able to reduce to a certain extent the poverty rate among disabled people as it allows them to go to school to get an education and then be gainfully employed. It also enables disabled people to move freely in their communities. They can then be active participants and contributors in the activities and development of the communities that they live in.

5. What Is Good For Disabled People Is Good For Everyone
A building with steps is only accessible to people who can walk. A building with ramps is accessible to people who can walk and disabled people. Therefore, what is good for disabled people is good for everybody. Accessible facilities also benefit senior citizens, pregnant women, parents with prams, children and people with temporary impairments.

Given the opportunity, disabled people will be able to contribute meaningfully to the development of the society that they are part of. Making the state of Selangor Darul Ehsan barrier-free and accessible is the first step towards that objective. We have among us, experts in various fields related to disability such as accredited Access Auditors, Disability Equality Trainers, Rights-based Advocates and Independent Living Resource Persons who are ready to impart our expertise to achieve that.

6. Representation In The Government
At 10% of the population, disabled people form one of the largest minorities in the country and also the most disadvantaged. This can be attributed to the fact that they are under-represented in the government. Without a voice in the government, disability issues are given little attention and priority.

As such, we call upon the Government of Selangor Darul Ehsan to :-

1. Recognise that disabled people have the same rights as other citizens.

2. Respect disabled people’s right to freedom of movement and barrier-free environment.

3. Take immediate steps to incorporate the needs of disabled people in all planning and decision making of the physical, economic and social development in the state.

4. Consult and involve disabled people in all policies and projects including education, housing, employment, public transportation, built environment, services, social and cultural activities, etc.

5. Ensure that all services provided by the Government of Selangor Darul Ehsan and companies contracted under the state are accessible to disabled people

6. Ensure that By-law 34A of the Uniform Building By-laws and the related codes of practices are strictly enforced and introduce legislation for accessible street environment and public transportation.

7. Apply the same accessible standards and service provisions to all government buildings.

8. Set a time frame for Selangor Darul Ehsan to become the first barrier-free state in Malaysia.

9. Compel all public transport operators in Selangor Darul Ehsan to provide accessible public transport service.

10. Allocate an employment quota in the Government of Selangor Darul Ehsan to disabled people

11. Provide disability awareness and equality training for all public service providers and local authorities at the managerial, operations and technical level.

We earnestly appeal to the Government of Selangor Darul Ehsan to take note of the pertinent points covered in this memorandum. Problems faced by disabled people deserve equal attention. We sincerely hope the Government of Selangor Darul Ehsan will work towards the equalization of opportunities for disabled people.

This memorandum was prepared by Peter Tan and Naziaty Yaacob.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

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