Can Datuk Seri Jeanne Abdullah Effect Change For Disabled People?

The Star reported that Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, the wife of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was touched by the disabled-friendly facilities she saw at the Paralympic Games Village when she was in Beijing to visit Malaysian Paralympians. Datuk Seri Jeanne is urging developers to design more disabled friendly housing projects, saying that the nation should do more for disabled people.

I hope this message will not fall on deaf ears. Disabled people in Malaysia have been facing such issues far longer than the 24 years that I have been on a wheelchair. Perhaps Datin Seri Jeanne is not aware that Malaysia already has the Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A) that requires all public buildings to comply with Malaysian Standard MS 1183 and MS 1184. MS 1184 is the Code of Practice on Access for Disabled People to Public Buildings. It specifies how accessible facilities inside buildings should be built. The UBBL 34A has been gazetted by the various states in the mid-1990s.

Sadly, this provision in the UBBL 34A is seldom enforced by local governments. Public buildings are still allowed to be constructed without fulfilling the said requirements. To exacerbate matters, there is no law to ensure that external built environment such as pedestrian walkways are accessible to disabled people although a code of practice in the form of Malaysian Standard MS 1331 has been drawn up for such purposes.

The newspaper report also stated that Datuk Seri Jeanne hoped schools will encourage children to help disabled people if they come across one and that we should change our mindset to be more caring. Although it is heartening to note that she is trying to inculcate a caring attitude in students, it would have been better if we can build a society where disabled people can live independently instead of depending on such ad hoc forms of assistance. At the moment, disabled people, especially those with severe impairments, are unable to practice independent living because of the prejudices against disabled people.

Society still hold on to the view that disabled people cannot do things for themselves and therefore cannot live independently. There is this notion that disabled people need charity to survive. These are all fallacies. People are disabled by the environment and attitudes, and not by their conditions. It is how we build things and how we perceive disabled people that is disabling. Malaysia has to move from the antiquated Medical Model of Disability to the Social Model of Disability in order for disabled people to benefit from a level playing field in society.

Medical Model of Disability sees the disabled person as the problem. It emphasizes the rehabilitation of disabled people to make them fit into society. The focus is on correcting the impairment rather than meeting the needs. Social Model of Disability defines the difference between impairment and disability. Impairment does not necessarily lead to disability. People are disabled by manmade environmental barriers and social prejudices. The Social Model of Disability advocates the restructuring of society to eliminate institutional discrimination. It promotes the establishment of a conducive environment where disabled people can coexist on equal terms with society in general.

In my working trips overseas, I have met people with severe physical impairments in that are living independently in their communities. They are able to achieve this through a social support system that provides personal assistants, peer counselling and independent living skills training, among others. The accessible built environment and public transport system also plays an important role in enabling disabled people to move around conveniently to participate in the activities of the community that they live in.

Disabled people in Malaysia have been screaming themselves hoarse to advocate for similar social support systems to enable us to live independently in the community too. If it can be done in other countries, it can be done here. For one reason or another, issues of disabled people have not been given the attention it deserves. Disabled people are still being marginalized in all areas in society.

Where disability rights advocates have failed, perhaps Datuk Seri Jeanne can whisper into the ear of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to seriously look into the issues affecting disabled people in a holistic manner? Surely a few words from lips of the wife is worth a thousand words of disability rights advocates who have been unsuccessful in impressing the government on the real and urgent needs of disabled people.

The Star
Monday September 8, 2008
Jeanne visits paralympic team
By CELESTE FONG

BEIJING: Developers have been urged to design more disabled-friendly housing projects.

Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, the wife of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was touched by the disabled-friendly facilities she saw at the Paralympic Games Village here, said: “We should do more for the disabled.

“I hope schools will encourage and teach children to help (the disabled) if they see a disabled (person). We should change our mindset to be more caring,” she added.

Pointing at the disabled-friendly ATM machine booth, Jeanne said the facilities in the village showed the level of consideration for the disabled.

She was also awed by the spirit of the paralympians and the courage displayed by them, saying that Malaysians could emulate them.

“This is what we should be doing in our country,” she said, hoping that Malaysians could raise the level of consideration for the disabled.

Jeanne, the patron of the Malaysian Paralympic Council, was accompanied by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysian Ambassador to China Datuk Syed Norulzaman Kamarulzaman, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Ab Hakim Borhan and National Sports Council director-general Datuk Zolkples Embong to the games village here.

On the Malaysian paralympians, Jeanne, who met them in the village, said Abdullah had conveyed his best wishes to them.

The Malaysian paralympians will begin their respective events today.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Minion to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. Columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. Principal Trainer at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Can Datuk Seri Jeanne Abdullah Effect Change For Disabled People?”

  1. Hi Peter,
    This is a really great post; and I could feel the strong desire and voices of all the half unfortunate Malaysians out there.
    I do understand how you feel and sadly, as we have all observed, Malaysians are definitely not up to that level of education where they think for the unfortunates. Not just that, they don’t even have respect for the agile senior citizens.
    Just the other day, I noticed a blind man crossing the street on the opposite side of the road and all the cars were stopping for the red light at the cross junction. Imagine, all the cars at the front of the queue looked at the poor man waving his walking stick in the air; and even I, who was in the car in the middle of the line noticed that much of a motion and I unstrapped my safety belt to make that attempt to get down from the passenger seat to lend my hand.
    Fortunately, God sent 2 good Samaritans who got down from their cars faster than I did and they helped him find his way to the right side of the road.

    At that point, I was thankful for these kind Samaritans but at the same time, I was really angered by the fact that our roads and shopping malls were not friendly enough for the less fortunates; despite the law which stated the requirements of the buildings!
    Where is the caring society label we so proudly wear or is it just some promotional or marketing technique?

    The only shopping mall in Malaysia which does advocate this is Jusco; and it is truly a family store. However, I still feel that something really needs to be done real soon to provide our whole society the feel of a real home here in our beautiful country.
    Hopefull Datuk Seri Jeanne’s message will not fall on deaf ears (again!)

    Peter:
    I hope so too but the skeptic in me is saying otherwise.

  2. Hello,

    I am a Malaysian graduate student at University of Arkansas, US and I am now majoring in Rehabilitation Counseling specialization in people with disabilities. I found that this website is interesting and provide me with a lot of information regarding the issues of people with disabilities in Malaysia. I would like to know is there any other way for me to stay contact with you? thank you.

    Peter:
    I can be contacted via the email address in the Contact page.

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