Disabled people are funny people – funny in an ironic way. On one hand, we are asking that our fundamental rights be respected. We demand for equalization in opportunities. We want to be treated equally. On the other hand, we are also demanding for privileges. We want to enjoy discounts on everything – bus fares, phone bills, road tax and toll charges among others.
We should realise that one cannot see both sides of the coin at the same time. It is either heads or tails. If we want to be treated as equals, then we should be playing our part as equals. We cannot have the cake and eat it too. If we want the same services or facilities that other people are enjoying, then we should be prepared to pay the same price that everyone else is paying.
Rights and privileges are not interchangeable. We must understand the difference between the two. Privileges are things that are given out of goodwill and can be taken back at the wink of an eye. Rights are inalienable. It is not something that can be bestowed or revoked at whim. And rights must come first before anything else. That must be the priority in all disability advocacy activities.
At a time when our rights to accessible built environment and public transport in Malaysia is virtually non-existent, it is rather disappointing to hear my peers fussing over the 50% discount on bus and LRT fares provided by RapidKL to disabled people. By asking for such petty handouts, we are discarding our dignity to portray ourselves as objects of charity, pity and sympathy. Is that the impression that we really want to propagate about what disabled people really want from society?
That was exactly what happened at a meeting organised by the Malaysian Confederation of the Disabled (MCD) last Saturday to facilitate a survey conducted by the Malaysian Institute of Transport (MITRANS) based at the Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Shah Alam. The survey was to collect data on the public transportation needs of disabled people for the Master Plan on Public Transportation Policy that was commissioned by the Ministry of Transport.
Instead of focusing on the importance of equal access which is the main stumbling block in mainstreaming disability, some participants were bent in complaining about not getting the discount on bus and train fares. Please lar people, when tens of thousands of disabled people still cannot use the public transport, why are we talking about discounts? Have we become so petty that we only care for ourselves without a concern for those who are in situations worse off than ours? I am disappointed that people I regard as my peers in disability advocacy have lost sight of the big picture. We have truly missed the forest for the trees.