A disabled-friendly Malaysia?
19 Feb 10 : 8.00AM
By Ding Jo-Ann
MALAYSIA passed the Persons with Disabilities Act (PWDA) in 2008 as part of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN Convention). According to the PWDA, those persons with disabilities shall have equal access to the following in Malaysia:
public facilities, amenities, services and buildings;
information, communication and technology;
recreation, leisure and sport.
Malaysia also amended the Uniform Building Bylaws in 1990, making it compulsory for buildings to provide access and facilities for disabled persons. Existing buildings were given three years to make modifications to comply with the bylaw.
In addition, then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said in September 2006 that all buildings and public amenities, including existing buildings, must be disabled friendly.
But two years after the Act and nearly two decades after the bylaw amendment, have there been substantial steps taken in providing equal access for persons with disabilities? If not, why not?
Peter Tan, a disability rights advocate living with spinal cord injury, says that as far as accessing public places is concerned, not much has changed since the PWDA or bylaw amendment were passed.
He says accessible facilities have only been provided on a piecemeal basis so far. “For example, if a wheelchair user wants to go to Suria KLCC from Cheras, there are too many barriers in the built environment and public transport system that makes the journey impossible.
“We need to have accessibility from a holistic point of view. What is the point of having a building that is fully accessible when the wheelchair user cannot even get out from his [or her] house safely and conveniently?” says Tan.
He adds there is currently no code of practice for disabled access to public transport. “RapidKL claimed they have 100 buses with ramps. However, the buses don’t allow wheelchair users to board. Even if they did, the bus stops are not suitable.
“If I don’t drive, I won’t be able to move around the city conveniently. I have taken the Kelana Jaya LRT line, which is wheelchair accessible, but there is no connectivity from our homes to the stations,” says Tan.
RapidKL buses, which Tan says aren’t as disabled friendly as they are claimed to be
(Pic by mailer_diablo / Wiki commons)
Helen Chin, a lawyer and advocate for the learning disabled, cannot think of any examples of significant improvements brought about by the PWDA.
“There are some radio announcements on launching programmes to sensitise people on the rights of disabled persons. This is encouraging, but no details have been given,” she says in a phone interview.
“We’re in 2010 now; the Act was passed in 2008. [The government] has to move faster… there are so many who are disabled.”
Chin says that at an October 2009 Bar Council public forum, an Education Ministry spokesperson announced plans to remove the words “non-educable” from the Education Act (Special Education) Regulations 1997 by early 2010. This was to align the regulations with the PWDA, which ensures equal education opportunities for all.
To date, however, Chin says nothing has been gazetted.
Anthony (Courtesy of T Anthony) Petaling Jaya (PJ) City Council councillor and The Star Wheel Power columnist Anthony Thanasayan says the council has been working hard to make PJ disabled friendly.
He says having a technical committee on disabilities is a must to ensure access for disabled persons.
Anthony, who is a wheelchair user, says having a disabled person in the committee is also crucial to ensure plans are usable.
“All new buildings [in PJ] now need the committee’s approval. Through this process, we’ve spotted many plans that needed improvement. Often, [developers] genuinely have no clue [about how to construct a disabled-friendly building].”
Anthony says the PWDA is “useless” without a disabilities committee in every council. “Change must be top-down, not down-up,” he says. “It has to start with the pavements outside your house, not at some beautiful five-star hotel or shopping complex.
“If Najib means what he says [about ensuring all public buildings and amenities are disabled friendly], he should set up disability committees in all councils,” says Anthony.
Anthony predicts that a satisfactory level for disabled access can be gradually achieved in three years, provided the council stays committed. The council also plans to build 150 disabled-friendly car parks with shelters, and now issues official disabled passes for free. It also built a 500m universal-design pavement along Jalan Gasing that is disabled friendly.
Tan (Courtesy of Peter Tan) Tan adds that accessible facilities do not just benefit disabled persons, but can also be used by senior citizens, pregnant women, and adults with prams.
Making change happen
On a national level, Chin says the government needs to set up a board of inquiry with session court powers if it seriously intends to address issues faced by disabled persons.
“At the moment, there is no machinery for channelling complaints and to draw the government’s attention to grouses,” says Chin. “You can write a letter just like to any government department, but there’s no accountability to this process. So how effective can it be?”
The PWDA establishes a National Council for Persons with Disabilities chaired by the minister in charge of social welfare, which meets at least thrice yearly to implement the PWDA.
However, Chin says the PWDA doesn’t provide for any sanctions if the government fails in its obligation to provide equal opportunities of access as outlined in the PWDA. Further, there are conflicting provisions in the PWDA on whether an individual can sue the government for not meeting its obligations.
“Without penalties [for contravening the PWDA] and a board of inquiry, [the Act] is more like a policy statement. There should be separate regulations made to ensure that implementation is down-to-earth and practical,” says Chin.
Chin notes that sanctions already exist for buildings that do not comply with the Uniform Building Bylaws, which provide for disabled access. However, enforcement has been weak. “Even when there are legislative provisions providing for sanction, its success depends on enforcement,” she says.
(Pic by Thoursie / sxc.hu)Although Malaysia signed the UN Convention, we did not ratify it or sign the Optional Protocol. The protocol allows those adversely affected by a country’s non-compliance with the UN Convention to report such violations to the UN committee, which oversees its implementation.
“The authorities often say that things cannot change overnight,” says Tan. “I have been a wheelchair user for 26 years, and have not been able to live independently even after the PWDA or Uniform Building Bylaws amendment.
“Fifteen years since the bylaw amendment, politicians are still using this excuse.”
Today is the International Day of Disabled Persons. The theme for this year is “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Dignity and justice for all of us”. This day is celebrated worldwide with disabled people coming together to show solidarity and reaffirm our rights as members of equal standing in society. In Malaysia, several event are held in parallel in conjunction with this day. I was slated to give a presentation at the National Conference on Disability 2008 at the Concorde Hotel later in the day. Unfortunately, I had to cancel that engagement as I am still recovering from the cold that I caught last week.
I am not in a celebratory mood just yet. The Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 came into force in July and has yet to show how effective it is in protecting the rights of disabled people. Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but have yet to ratify it and is not a party to the Optional Protocol. Where is the dignity and justice for disabled people when we do not have access to public transport and the built environment with is the crucial link other essential services such as education, employment and even medical? Where is dignity and justice when the government cannot even protect the parking spaces for disabled people from being abused? Need I say more?
How do you tell someone who owns a blog but does not know what copyright laws are to not steal your online images? Using photographs without asking for the owner’s permission is called stealing. Francis seems to think that it is all right since I used the abbreviation “ILTC” without his permission. I think I also cannot use the name Francis Siva because it is copyrighted if we go by his logic. But never mind lar, I curi guna for this one entry. After all, someone did say imitation is the best form of flattery. I hope you are feeling flattered Francis Siva.
As for the images that he stole from my post here with the caption “Peter Tan in his brand, new shiny Honda car” Francis obviously does not understand what “test drive” means. “Test drive” means one goes to a car showroom to um… test drive the car. If every car that I test drive eventually belongs to me, I am going to test drive more than a “lowly” Honda Civic. A BMW or Mercedes Benz would more likely be my choice.
For someone who accuses me for not being able to take criticisms very well, it is obvious from his posts about me who really cannot take criticisms but have to resort to name calling and hitting below the belt to make himself seem like the victor. Francis, you should take your own advice and not be so defensive when someone disagrees with you. Or are you the type of person who cakap tak serupa bikin?
He also asked me to change the title of my post “Peter Tan Is A Selfish Disabled Person” because he said that I distorted it to imply that he said it. Ok, I agree that Francis did not say Peter Tan is a selfish disabled person. He just said, “Peter Tan, don’t be selfish.” That is not supposed to mean Peter Tan is a selfish person. If you say so Francis.
I asked Francis where in the Persons with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities say that only “disabled people living in poverty” have the right to public transport while disabled people who own cars are not entitled to that right. Instead of responding to that question he said he does not need the Convention to tell him how he should think and what he should do or not do. Perhaps he does not know that Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention.
Never mind the Convention Francis. Please tell me where in the Persons with Disabilities Act that says only “disabled people living in poverty” have the right to use public transport while disabled people who own cars are not entitled to that right. Or you also do not subscribe to the Persons with Disabilities Act? While you are at it, please also enlighten me on what your ethics are since that overrules everything else which includes denying some disabled people the right to public transport.
Truth be told, I am ignorant of how city councillors in Majlis Perbandaran Petaling Jaya work. Do they each use transport provided by the MPBJ to carry out their official duties like how Anthony Thanasayan does? Actually, I have nothing against Anthony. I mentioned him because you mentioned him in your blog regarding the usage of the van.
All right, I get it now. In your ethical world some disabled people who have cars can use the MBPJ van while others who own cars cannot use it. So Anthony’s official duties takes priority over other disabled people who may need it to go to the hospital or for other pressing matters. So when you said, “The MBPJ van should be at the disposal of DISABLED PEOPLE WITHOUT TRANSPORT!” it does not apply to a disabled city councillor who owns a car. His official duties take priority over hospital appointments and pressing matters of other disabled people living in poverty. I get it now. Thank you for clarifying that.
You asked me if I was jealous of Anthony’s appointment as a city councillor. No actually. I do not envy Anthony. It is a heavy responsibility. I am only an armchair critic giving useless advice. Nevertheless, I am also one that could get you so riled up to the extend of you resorting to calling me names. But you know Francis, I sense jealousy on your part when you said all I have done is go overseas and brush shoulders with VIPs. Please do not be jealous. You too can go overseas and rub shoulders with VIPs when you get invited to present papers on disability issues in Malaysia. Your time will come and when that happens, you can be sure that I will be green with envy too.
A few months back, I had a similar altercation with another disabled advocate who may have been your friend one time or another. He told me that he has been in the disability movement for thirteen years. This is dejavu when I read you saying that you have been running a center for disabled people for ten years and that you have been a disabled activist for fifteen. You veterans sure like to tell people how many years you have been doing this and that. Ok lar. I am only two years old in the disability movement and like you said, I am just an armchair critic who gives useless advice, does not have a registered society and does not command the strength in numbers.
One word: WOW! It must be a great feeling to be running a registered society and be in command of a great number of disabled people. Very boastful words but never mind lar. This is one argument I cannot win. After all, I am just a lone ranger claiming to be a voice for disabled people. What can a lone ranger do? Certainly not much as compared to someone who runs a registered society and command the strength in numbers. For that, I salute you.
Just before I conclude this entry, I am reproducing a comment you left in my blog in December 2007 below. You once encouraged me not to give up our struggle as a disabled person and to keep up the good fight. You also advised me not to allow the setback stop me from speaking up for our rights. You said that we need everyone’s voice to make a difference in Malaysia. I talked about the right of disabled people to accessible public transport and you got all worked up and accuse me of being a proxy to Bathma. Now that I am speaking up, you complain so much about it. Correct me if I am wrong but when you said speaking up, you meant speaking up against other people but not against you, right? But never mind lar. Green horns like me should learn from veterans like you to be innocent as doves and wise like serpents. I am learning. I am learning.
Dear Peter Tan,
Thank you for your wonderful comments. We are sorry to learn that you have been cheated by disabled people that you once trusted. You have unfortunately discovered what we have learn long ago. We at ILTC would like to encourge you not to give up our struggle as disabled person. Please keep up the good fight. Dont allow this setback to stop you from speaking up for our rights. We need everyone’s voices to make a difference in Malaysia. Let us remember to be innocent as doves but wise as serpents. Thanks for exposing the hippocrips among us.
G. Francis Siva
Woops, did I just expose another hypocrite amongst us? Well, I am just doing what you advised me to do. Take heart that I took your advice seriously. And Francis, please do not address me as your friend. I was never your friend and have no interest to be one. As for you not wanting to respond to my other questions, it is all right. I do get tongue-tied once in a while, especially when I discover that my arguments have no basis. We are, after all, humans.
I am not expecting you to reply to this entry since you said I will not be hearing from you again. I understand. Someone as important as you who has been running a registered society for the past ten years and an activist for the past fifteen have more pressing matters to attend to and and not have time for a nobody like me. Yes, your letter has once again dented my ego. No worries, I will recover. Your apologies accepted.
Just in case your friends overseas would like to know the outcome of our exchanges and since you circulated your previous email to all and sundry, I am taking the liberty to copy this to the same people to let them know what great work you have done for disabled people in Malaysia. I am sure you will not mind. After all, good deeds should be publicly announced so that other people will be in awe of your great contributions towards the well-being of disabled people.