We Are Not Wheelchair-Bound

The Star published several physical disability-related articles during the last few days. This coverage has highlighted some of the problems people living with permanent physical impairments have to go through very often. The journalists and editors must be given credit for drawing the public’s attention to such issues.

While such moves to advance the cause of people with disabilities are highly commendable, the selection of words used to describe the persons is imprecise. By using the term wheelchair-bound, it is implied that we are constrained to our wheelchairs. I am also guilty for using this term and some others in my blog to describe myself. I am currently learning to write using the acceptable terms to better reflect the course I am pursuing now. The wheelchair is an apparatus we use to improve our mobility. We are in no way bound to it. We have a life away from the wheelchair too. Likewise, do we call a manager who sits in his executive chair all day chair-bound?

The appropriate words to describe a person like me, if there is a need to include my wheelchair in the description, should be wheelchair user. My peers and I have agreed that this is a better term to use during Disability Equality Training in November. In light of that, the appropriate term to use for parking lots for drivers using wheelchairs is accessile parking and not handicapped parking or disabled parking. Toilets for wheelchair users is better referred to as accessible toilets rather than handicapped or disabled toilets.

Another word that is often associated to people with disabilities is handicapped. Yes, we are physically impaired, but what handicaps us is the environment that was not built to suit our needs. A properly equipped wheelchair accessible toilet enables us. A building with steps but no ramp for access handicaps us. If society is built to include people with disabilities, where all barriers are removed, there would not be a need to label us as people with disabilities, disabled persons, handicapped or crippled, the last two words which is undignified and offensive in some ways. We can all then live our lives on somewhat equal terms. Susan Hemmings and Jenny Morris formulated the Definition of Disability that succinctly explains it in an easy to understand sum.

Impairment + Disenabling Factor = Disability

Person with Impairment + Experience of Disenabling Factor = Disabled Person

A disabled person is a person nonetheless. In many cases, the impairment is not the disenabling factor. The surrounding is. We should not attempt to change the person with impairment to suit the environment. Rather, the environment must be put together to enable the person with impairment the freedom to live a life with qualities that are at par with the non-disabled. And remember, we are not wheelchair-bound. We are wheelchair users.

Interesting read:
Beyond the AP Stylebook

Equality For People With Disabilities

Dato’ Hajjah Shamsiah bte Abdul Rahman, Ketua Pengarah Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia,
giving a speech before the opening ceremony of the Disability Equality Training.

Life is continuous learning process. Mine is. There is something new everyday for me to discover. There were several things that I learnt at Disability Equality Training (DET) that I attended from last Saturday till yesterday under the sponsorship of Persatuan Orang-Orang Cacat Anggota Malaysia (POCAM). This Training The Trainer workshop was organized by the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The topic I would have loved to understand more of was Our Rights as Disabled People but not enough time was given to it. Nevertheless, this is one subject that I will be researching extensively in the coming months that will then be applied to the work that I have committed to carry out.

Group photo of all the participants.

About one hundred people from the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat and NGOs working with people with disabilities attended the one day seminar on Saturday. Twenty five participants stayed back to continue with the training. Fifteen were Welfare Officers from the states in Malaysia and ten were people with disabilities. Of the ten, three were audially impaired and one visually impaired. The other six were physically disabled wheelchair users with two coming from Thailand, representing the Asia-Pacific Development Centre On Disability. The sessions were conducted by Kevin McLaughlin and Lucy McLaughlin, the husband and wife team specializing in DET training from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Individual presentation session.

DET attempts to change the mindset regarding people with disabilities. It can be a simple thing like using the correct words for describing a disabled person to recognizing their rights as equal members of society. People with disabilities should not be seen as the problem when they are unable to function effectively. Rather, the disenabling environment, prejudices and misconceptions should be rectified and addressed to include and allow equal participation by people with disabilities at all levels.

Group photo of participants together with Kenji Kuno, Chief Advisor for JICA.

Although the philosophy of DET calls for it to be run by people with disabilities, the participation and training of Welfare Officers to become DET trainers would enable them to see the situation from the other side of the fence. I am sure they have been enlightened by the various issues that the ten participants with various impairments have put forth. The pinnacle of the training was the ten-minute presentation by each participant on a DET topic of their choice. I selected Rights, a disability issue that is gaining support from the disability movement in Malaysia and also from the government for their active involvement in organising this training.

Disability Equality Training

I will be attending a Disability Equality Training (DET) organised by the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia (JKMM) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) from November 19 to November 24 at Hotel Grand Continental. The resource person is Kevin McLaughlin, a DET Trainer from the United Kingdom. He is the author of DET training book titled Towards Inclusion: A Widening Access Initiative (2003), Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast. A copy if the book is available here in pdf.

Disability Equality Training (DET) has been developed by the Disability Movement over the last two decades in the United Kingdom. Disability Equality Training (DET) is about raising awareness and examining peoples’ thinking about disability. DET explores solutions that aim to eliminate discrimination and prejudice experienced by disabled people.

It consists of a one-day seminar and five-day training and is fully sponsored by JICA but participants have to pay for their own travelling and accomodation. My accomodation is being funded by the Persatuan Orang-Orang Cacat Anggota Malaysia of which I am a member. Participants of the five-day training are expected to work with their organisations and JICA in implementing DET in Malaysia for the next three years.