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Unwitting victims of other people’s misconduct – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 11 January, 2014

23rd February, 2014 - Sunday

Unwitting victims of other people’s misconduct
by Peter Tan. Posted on January 11, 2014, Saturday

A GREAT number of people I am acquainted with use Facebook. This is mostly how we share information, communicate with each other and express ourselves nowadays. Living up to its title as the king of social media, Facebook by far is the most popular social networking site and one that has revolutionised the way we relate to the world around us.

The ease with which we can reach out to a wider audience makes it a very convenient all-purpose self-publicity tool. As with all things, there is good and bad to it. While spoken words are fleeting to those within earshot, messages posted on Facebook can be shared multiple times in a wink and get read by a multitude of people they may not be intended for, depending on the privacy settings of the account.

With this social tool, we have become more vocal than we ever were. We bare our lives and souls to friends and strangers alike. Where we were always mindful of our speech in public, our thoughts oftentimes flow unrepressed online. These open windows into the psyches of people from diverse backgrounds have also given me exasperatingly deep insights of the general perceptions society has of disabled persons.

Someone in my friends list thought it witty to equate asinine politicians with disabled persons. I agree with the view that some politicians are not grounded to the expectations we demand of them as public servants. Time and again, we cringed at the puerile statements that spewed forth from their mouths. Nonetheless, was there really a need to swear at their shortcomings by labelling them as ‘OKU’ (disabled persons)?

In another instance, one of the comments to a video of a snatch thief who was apprehended went like this: “You have hands and legs but do not want to work. Better be an OKU.” Again, it boggled my mind how that was deemed a justified analogy between disabled persons and people who do not want to find decent work.

Let us not forget that one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of our time is Stephen Hawking. He is living with severe physical and speech impairments. Closer to home, our very own Hasihin Sanawi, a paraplegic, bagged a silver medal at the London Paralympic Games. This is a feat not many of us can achieve. These are people who have worked hard to be where they are now. And mind you, they are OKUs.

What is even more disturbing is that some disabled persons have no qualms about using similar slurs on drivers who abuse accessible parking spaces. The image of a German marque caught occupying such a spot without a wheelchair sticker on its windscreen appeared in my Facebook timeline. Among others, a wheelchair user called the driver “cacat otak” (person with intellectual impairment).

Another two terms that I see being used often are “retard” and “mentally retarded”. Both were previously used to refer to persons with intellectual impairments but are no longer considered appropriate now. Although the inherent intention of people using these terms was to imply that inconsiderate people are stupid and thoughtless, it demeaned disabled persons by linking us to those unpleasant characteristics.

From these accounts, it is apparent that we, as a disadvantaged community, are seen as immature, useless and inconsiderate, even by other disabled persons with different impairments. The tendency to associate us with these traits may have been done in jest or meant to be an actual insult. Either way, I find that downright offensive. It is especially hurtful when it was lobbed by one of us against our own.

I used to step in to point out the inappropriateness of the language. Most people understand after listening to my explanation. Still, there are the few who took offence and accused me of trying to impose my norms on them and stifle their freedom of speech which was never my intention. I allowed them be because engaging them further would make them even more recalcitrant.

We are often tarred with the same brush used for people who are reviled due to deep-set prejudices. Just because we have impairments, we are seen as incapable of leading a meaningful and fulfilling lives. Disabled persons in general are still the innocent victims in these cases twice over; first of systemic barriers that society is in no hurry to dismantle, and second of blinkered mindsets that assume we can amount to nothing, a situation which is caused by the systemic barriers in the first place. It is a vicious cycle.

In reality, we are no different from anyone else. We have feelings. We can be hurt. We have ambitions. We are not exempt from failure. We want to love and be loved. And just like everyone else, we do not fancy being used as fodder for jokes and abuse aimed at other people for their bad behaviour.

That by itself is bad behaviour too, and rude. Therefore, I sincerely urge people who are prone to using terms like OKU and mentally retarded to insult another person to please stop and think who they are actually humiliating.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/01/11/unwitting-victims-of-other-peoples-misconduct/#ixzz2u6UPLaTo

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Flood preparedness for disabled persons — Are we doing enough? – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 4 January, 2014

23rd February, 2014 - Sunday

Flood preparedness for disabled persons — Are we doing enough?
by Peter Tan. Posted on January 4, 2014, Saturday

FLOODING in Malaysia is a cyclical occurrence given that we are hit by the Northeast Monsoon, which dumps heavy rain on the east coast states in the peninsula and as well as the west coast of Sarawak from November to March every year.

The images of the recent floods in Miri and Bintulu prompted me to revisit the topic on dealing with disasters that I wrote in this column last year. How prepared are we in evacuating mobility impaired persons and how accessible are the evacuation centres?

My family used to live in the fringe of a notoriously flood-prone area in Penang. Down the road from our house, the water could rise to chest-height if it rained non-stop for several hours. It rarely affected us though as the drain outside the house would just overflow most of the time.

One year, water poured into the house. As it continued to rise, my parents were at a loss on how I could be evacuated should the situation get worse. We lived in a single-storey terraced house and there was no higher ground for me to escape to in my wheelchair. When the rain finally stopped, we were wading in filthy ankle-deep water. It was already nightfall. There was no electricity. We had no idea when the water would subside. I shuddered to think about the fate that could befall me had the rain persisted. That happened 20 years ago.

According to the Incheon Strategy, a set of disability-inclusive development goals agreed by 53 countries in Asia and the Pacific, disabled persons and other vulnerable groups are at higher risk of death, injury and additional impairments as a result of exclusion from disaster risk reduction policies, plans and programmes.

From my conversations with officers involved in disaster relief and management recently, there is still no specific action plan to manage the rescue and evacuation of disabled persons in situations of disaster in an orderly manner. This omission is unacceptable as severe flood is a natural and annual event in some states in Malaysia.

Section 40 of the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 specifically states that disabled persons have the right to assistance on equal basis in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies which include natural disasters.

Furthermore, the Act obligates the government to take all necessary measures to ensure that disabled persons have the right of assistance in such situations by way of legal as well as administrative mechanisms.
First and foremost, I could not find a hotline to call for assistance after trawling the Internet. There should be a unified telephone number that is easy to remember for this purpose and widely publicised in the mass media. In its absence, the best bet is to contact the police or Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba).

Time is of the essence in flash floods. An up-to-date registry of persons needing assisted evacuations should be maintained. This will be very helpful in case telephone lines are down. Rescue personnel could be dispatched without delay to check on the situation and provide assistance if necessary. All rescue personnel should also be trained to handle the evacuation safely and in a dignified way.

The next issue is the accessibility of relief centres. The majority of schools and community halls that are used for this purpose are not friendly to mobility impaired persons. The question begging answers is why are these buildings not in compliance with the Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A) which requires them to provide access to disabled persons?

The easiest alternative is to put up disabled persons in hospitals. However, this is against the spirit of the Act, an indication of the failure of the government at all levels in providing suitable facilities to everyone in relief centres and a clear violation of the UBBL 34A, which was gazetted by the various states in the 1990s.

On the other hand, mobility impaired persons such as senior citizens and wheelchair users should be aware of several pertinent points to prepare well ahead for such situations, especially those living in low-lying and flood-prone areas.

It is a good thing that the monsoon comes at a predetermined time every year. This allows ample time to stock up on groceries to tide us over the period when we are trapped at home. A list of contact numbers for all nearby police and fire stations would be very useful if and when the situation turns dire.

We should be prepared for evacuation if the worst comes to the worst by packing all essential items such as important documents, medications, adaptive aids, clothes and even diapers to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Last but not least, keep some spare cash handy for incidental expenses.

Although monsoon flooding is a cyclical phenomenon in this country, the relief agencies time and again are still caught with their pants down for not being able to deal with the disaster decisively, especially in food distribution and provision of basic necessities.

It is high time the government look into the issue of disabled persons in situations of disaster more seriously. There should be a comprehensive plan that all parties are aware of, from the disaster management and relief committee members right down to officers in the field and affected persons.

Malaysia, being a member country that agreed to the Incheon Strategy, has a responsibility to ensure that disabled persons are included in regular emergency preparedness drills and other risk reduction measures to prevent or minimise risk when disasters occur.

My final question is: What has been achieved so far since the Incheon Strategy was adopted in November 2012, and the resolution of the conference by stakeholders on the same topic in July 2013 that was presented to the government?

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/01/04/flood-preparedness-for-disabled-persons-are-we-doing-enough/#ixzz2u6TpU3ld

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The case for accessible homes – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 28 December, 2013

23rd February, 2014 - Sunday

The case for accessible homes
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 28, 2013, Saturday

“HOME is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to,” said the late John Ed Pearce, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

For many of us, home is a house we spend half of our life paying instalments for every month and very likely the biggest investment we ever make. We take pains to gradually turn it into an oasis for us to retire comfortably in many years later.

This insight to think far ahead ensures that there is a roof over our heads when we need it most is all well and good except that the vagaries of old age requires more than a shelter. With advancing age comes a host of health issues. Some are unexpected conditions that we can neither avoid nor prevent, even for those who are of strong constitution.

Stroke, arthritis and fracture of the hip are some of the risks that increase with the progression of age. At the extreme, they cause significant mobility impairments that affect the individual as well as other family members who are providing care and support.

Most, if not all, residential properties were not built to accommodate such situations. Multiple steps, narrow doorways and unsuitable layout of toilet fittings can pose considerable challenges to the activities of daily living of people using mobility aids like the wheelchair or walking frame.

A good case in point is my octogenarian father-in-law who has been living with a bad knee for almost a decade. He walks with a limp that has gotten progressively worse over the years. Of late, he has been falling down a tad too frequent even with the assistance of a walking frame.

There are two sizeable steps into his double-storey house and one step down to the bathroom cum toilet at the ground floor. The family is asking him to consider moving into the room downstairs and hopefully use a wheelchair to improve his mobility. Ramps have to be added at the entrance and in the bathroom, and the toilet layout rearranged for his convenience should he agree to use a wheelchair.

It is going to be costly and messy to renovate the house at this stage. Walls and floors have to be hacked. I understand very well the drawbacks of living in a house that is being remodelled for this purpose, having experienced it twice.

Thin layers of dust would settle on the floor and wall and on every piece of furniture that was not covered. Everything had to be mopped and wiped after the contractors left at the end of each day. The routines of the entire household were disrupted for the duration of the renovation.

We are exploring the options of minimising the inconvenience and chaos this may cause to my in-laws. The challenge now is that house is fully furnished and there is little space left to move the furniture around for the contractors to do their work properly.

If the house was built with accessibility in mind from the beginning, it would have eliminated this predicament we are in now. I did not give much thought about solving the problem at the root cause even as an advocate for an accessible environment until I was interviewed for a newspaper article on this topic.

The journalist asked if it would be better to have all the accessible features incorporated into the property when it was being built. I agreed with him that it would definitely save a lot of money in renovations and elbow grease in cleaning up after the contractors every evening.

Malaysia is set to become an ageing nation by the year 2030 when fifteen percent of the population are sixty years old and above. With disabled persons making up another fifteen percent of the total population as estimated in the World Report on Disability, we will definitely have a significant number of people requiring dwellings that are accessible.

Ideally, these properties, be they landed or high-rise, should have seamless access from the main entrance onwards with wider doorways that are safe and convenient to be used by everyone as promulgated in the seven principles of universal design.

The common arguments against building properties with these features are that more space is required, and that they are unsightly and expensive. On the contrary, research had shown that the cost of accessibility make up less than one percent of total construction costs whereas retrofitting and upgrading the building after completion incurred far more.

A good architect can incorporate these features into the design by aesthetically blending them as part of the entire structure without requiring extra space. All it takes is ingenuity and understanding of how the surroundings can be made to suit the needs of users instead of the other way around.

People will invariably grow old. Some will require all the help they can get to maintain their independence for as long as possible. Others may sustain physical impairments in mid-life like what happened to me. They too can benefit from a home that allows them to function more effectively.

The incorporation of universal design can be a main selling point to these people and those looking for a house or apartment that is truly occupant-friendly. It is time property developers level up their offerings of better designed homes to meet the demands of the time.

The government can play its part in encouraging the construction of such dwellings by providing incentives for qualified developers or even purchasers.

A move like this will ensure that there is an adequate supply of suitable homes to meet the rising demand in the run up to the year 2030.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2013/12/28/the-case-for-accessible-homes/#ixzz2u6T2BG00

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