When Self-Enablement Is Not Enough

I am living with tetraparesis – muscular weakness of all my four limbs. My hands are weak although I have functional use of my arms. I have learnt to live with paralysis and the necessity in doing things differently where I can and use adaptive aids where I cannot.

I renovate the house for wheelchair access. I get the best wheelchair I can afford so that I can be more independent. This is also to protect my shoulders from repetitive strain injury and to improve my posture. Even the wheelchair cushion to protect my buttocks from developing pressure sores costs more than RM1,000.

I got a car, installed a hand control kit and learnt to drive because public transport service is scant when it comes to fulfilling the needs of disabled people who need to move around. Nevertheless, I still prefer buses and trains to driving because I can dispense with the need to transfer from wheelchair to car and vice versa every time I go out.

Over the years, I have spent a handsome amount for adaptive aids and renovations to enable myself to the best of my ability. That, unfortunately, is not enough for me to live a truly fulfilling life. The world outside is fraught with barriers the moment I get out from my house. Danger from bad design and construction lurks at every turn of the corner.

What I cannot understand is why the government continue to allow barriers to be put up despite recognising the importance of accessibility to the built environment for disabled people as promulgated in the Persons with Disabilities Act. Why cannot our country, in the spirit of Malaysia Boleh, put in effort to make the infrastructure accessible to everyone?

The KL MRT And Disabled People

I took the news of the Kuala Lumpur MRT project with some enthusiasm and many pinches of skepticism. Past experiences have taught me that public transport facilities for disabled people in Malaysia always fall short of the acceptable standards despite assurances from the government.

The main grouse with public transport in the Klang Valley for disabled people is the lack of accessibility and poor connectivity. Right from the moment one steps out from the house and even before reaching the bus stops, there are multiple barriers to contend with.

Sidewalks, footpaths and pavements generally lack kerb ramps or damaged by indiscriminately parked vehicles. These are in addition to obstructions along the pathways and drain grilles that can potentially trap wheels and heels. The problem does not end there.

At the time of writing, there are no accessible buses serving Pandan Perdana where I live. I am certain this is not an exception. Most of the RapidKL buses serving housing estates are not accessible. The question begging answers is how are disabled people suppossed to get to the MRT stations from our homes?

Circle of Mobility for Disabled People
Circle of Mobility for Disabled People

To ensure that disabled people have access to the MRT, the Circle of Mobility for Disabled People must be considered from a holistic perspective. The journey to the bus stops, the buses and eventually to the MRT stations and the trains must be uninterrupted by barriers. Otherwise, the most accessible MRT stations will be useless to disabled people because we cannot get to them.

Employment For Disabled People

The Star reported that the “Human Resources Ministry wants private sector employers to ensure that one percent of its workforce to be those with disabilities.” Easier said than done. Unless the issues of access to public transportation and the built environment is addressed, this will remain unachiveable.

Disabled people need both to connect them to other essential services such as education and employment. Without access to these two, disabled people do not have the mobility to go anywhere, including going to school and work. Without formal education, disabled people do not have the qualification and skills to be employable.

As I see it, the government is using the bottoms down approach in many disability issues. The private sector can allocate a 1% quota for their workforce for disabled people but without proper infrastructure to support the mobility and access, the quota will remain unfilled.

Truth be told, I am fed up with reading such announcements from the government every now and then. The ministers talk and talk and talk without seriously wanting to address the real issues faced by disabled people. In November 15, 2007, the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had called for disabled persons be given employment. Just last year, Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen who as the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development was reported as saying that “a task force is being set up to encourage more disabled people to work in the public sector.”

Has the then Prime Minister’s call been heeded? What has this task force announced by Datuk Dr. Ng achieved so far? Is this task force still in existence? Is the Ministry of Human Resource involved with this task force? What is being done to address the issues of accessibility to ensure that disabled people have equal opportunities to get an education to make them qualified for employment? What is the point of making available work opportunities when many disabled people do not have proper qualifications?

The head does not know what the tail is doing. So while the various ministries come out with idea after idea to get disabled people gainfully employed, the majority of disabled people are still stuck at home uneducated, unqualified and unemployed. I bet my bottom ringgit that a year or two from now, we will read of another minister announcing unfulfilled job quotas for disabled people.1Malaysia Boleh!

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Published: Tuesday July 28, 2009 MYT 1:38:00 PM
Proposal for the disabled to be 1% of private sector workforce

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Resources Ministry wants private sector employers to ensure that one percent of its workforce to be those with disabilities.

Deputy Minister Datuk Maznah Mazlan said Tuesday that the proposal would be forwarded to the Cabinet soon.

She said that the Government was already hiring people with disabilities but said that even the public sector had yet to fulfil the one percent quota.

“Only the Welfare Department has a 1.8 percent employment of disabled people. Other departments need to increase their employment of people with disabilities,” she said.