Public Interest Litigation Workshop for Disabled Persons

There are laws in Malaysia that protect the rights of disabled persons. The Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A) of the Street, Drainage and Building Act has been in force since 1991 to ensure equal access to public buildings for disabled persons. The landmark Persons with Disabilities Act (Akta Orang Kurang Upaya) was enacted in 2008. Malaysia became a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 8th April, 2008 and ratified the document in 19th July, 2010.

However, Malaysia did not sign the Optional Protocol to the CRPD. The Optional Protocol allows individuals to lodge complaints with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should a signatory country violates its obligations under the CRPD where the complainant has exhausted all avenues domestically.

The UBBL 34A requires that buildings constructed after it came into force be accessible to disabled persons and that buildings existing before that must be retrofitted with such facilities within three years. These facilities must comply with the Malaysia Standard MS 1184: Code of Practice on Access for Disabled Persons to Buildings. Twenty years later, many old buildings are still not renovated to comply to the by-law and newer buildings were built with facilities that are not usable and not built according to the code of practice. Furthermore, the PWD Act has not changed the situation for the better. Public transport, schools and other infrastructure are still inaccessible to disabled persons.

With these shortcomings in view, the Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok (PRLB), a community centre run by the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) and the Kuala Lumpur Bar Young Lawyers Committee (KLYLC) conducted a Strategic Litigation Workshop for disabled persons at the KL Bar Auditorium last Saturday to work on legal solutions to compel the authorities to comply with the UBBL 34A and the PWD Act. This workshop was the last of a series of four Public Interest Litigation Workshops to promote the human rights in the country.

It was unfortunate that the auditorium which was located in Wisma Kraftangan was inaccessible. There were no ramps for wheelchair users to get into the building. The venue was then changed to the Malaysian Bar Council’s Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium. The switchback ramp outside the building was rather steep and wheelchair users had difficulty ascending it independently on manual wheelchairs. There was also a safety issue with the landing where it did not have rails to prevent wheelchairs from going off the edge.

At the same time, pedestrian walkways leading to the building were fraught with poorly designed kerb ramps, drain covers with wide gaps and broken pavings. Incidentally, the Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) headquarters, the authority responsible for the upkeep of these facilities, is just a short walk away.

Strategic Litigation Workshop for disabled persons by the Pusat Rakyat LB and KL Bar Young Lawyers Committee
Disabled persons and lawyers at the Strategic Litigation Workshop held at the Malaysian Bar Council Auditorium.

Nevertheless, in spite of the barriers, about twenty disabled persons and an equal number of lawyers huddled in the auditorium. The workshop kicked off with the lawyers briefing the participants on the legal approaches and processes. Disabled participants also gave feedback on the problems with regards to inaccessibility to public buildings.

After tea break, participants were facilitated on their understanding on where disabled people stand in the scheme of things as citizens in this country in the session that was aptly called the Big Picture. What struck me most was how the interests of disabled people are under-represented in the entire political and administrative system. This session was followed by the Action Pyramid where we were presented with various options on advocacy activities that could be utilised to further the cause.

This workshop and the unfolding events represent another significant milestone in the annals of disability rights movement in Malaysia and a major step forward since the PWD Act came into force in 2008. The Kuala Lumpur legal fraternity, namely the MCCHR and KLYLC, deserve all the credit for their initiative in upholding and protecting the rights of disabled people in this country as provided for under the law.

After the conclusion of the workshop, participants were treated to a very scrumptious lunch of Peranakan cuisine at Precious Old China Restaurant & Bar in Central Market. A big thank you to all lawyers involved for generously contributing their time and effort for the betterment of disabled people in Malaysia. Things will never be quite the same for us again.

The Rise Of The Supercrips

“Supercrips” are people with impairments who overcome great obstacles to achieve “normality” in their lives, or even more. She is that paralysed woman who went through intense rehabilitation with a never-say-die attitude and is walking again today. And he is the man with no limbs who go about life “just like everyone else.”

The recent London 2012 Paralympics has pushed these supercrips to the forefront. People are paying more attention to these elite athletes who can outrun most non-disabled people. Their visibility in mainstream society is made more prominent by the mass and social medias that recycled images of them in their eye-catching carbon fibre prostheses.

The term “supercrip” itself is condescending. The word “cripple” is considered not politically correct when used in reference to disabled persons. We have evolved where language is concerned but this particular word lingers as supercrips continue to amaze society while creating a sense of confusion within the disability circle.

To society, they are the epitome of what other disabled people should strive for, rising from the ashes to become one with society again. Their accomplishments are often used as examples to inspire non-disabled people and other disabled people as well.

Don’t we just love the story of the armless artist who paints with his foot? Or the wheelchair user who goes everywhere and anywhere and even up stairs by himself? They don’t need reasonable accommodation. They don’t complain. They just suck it up and move on. If they can, why can’t other disabled people?

They make “ordinary” disabled people like me sound whiney and demanding for not putting in that extra effort but expecting society to solve our problems. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against them. They worked hard to get where they are. They live the life they want to. That is their prerogative. I have no argument with that.

What I am opposed to is how they are being used as a yardstick on other disabled people. Not every wheelchair user can get up a kerb without assistance. Not every single-leg amputee can become a world class athlete. Not every disabled person who go through rehabilitation can regain full functionality of their body.

A few years ago, I was invited to speak at a seminar organised by a municipal council on the environmental barriers faced by disabled people. Imagine my shock and horror when one of the speakers, after concluding his session on removing barriers, played a video of a disabled person going about his life effortlessly in spite of the barriers in and outside his house.

That video alone cancelled out all our arguments calling for a barrier free environment. Needless to say, the participants were more impressed with that video than the presentations of subsequent speakers. What made it more unfortunate was that the speaker is a wheelchair user and veteran activist on disability issues.

Injudicious use of such examples is damaging to the dignity of disabled persons as individuals and dilutes the advocacy of the disability movement. Disabled people who don’t achieve that certain level of independence will feel that they are not working hard enough. Society, on the other hand, will not see the urgency to make the built environment accessible since disabled people are the cause of their own problems.

The crux of the issue is that we should all accept the diversity of the humankind. People should be given a choice of who or what they want to be. There are super-achievers and there are people who just want to be ordinary. Not every non-disabled person can climb Mount Everest or run a marathon. We respect that. Likewise, not every disabled person has the capacity to become a super-achiever and may need support in their activities of daily living. We have to respect this also.

Supercrips are the exception, not the norm. Notwithstanding society’s fascination with them as the posterboy for disabled people, they are not the true face of disability, and not every disabled person wants to be a supercrip. That is the reality.

Around the world, millions of disabled people are still struggling against barriers, discrimination and oppression every day of their lives. Their stories of courage are not any less interesting. They are fighting for the right to live ordinary lives without having to accomplish extraordinary feats. Now, isn’t that one cause truly worth fighting for?


Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak invited Malaysians on Facebook and Twitter to ask him questions from 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm today. The Twitter hashtag is #tanyanajib while questions through Facebook can be submitted at I have never seen a Twitter timeline scroll down so fast. Due to the overwhelming response, the time to pose questions was extended to 6.00 pm.

I thought that this would be a good opportunity to pose the questions on longstanding disability issues to him and see if he responds. These issues are, after all, not new but ones that have gone unresolved for the longest time. Will Najib address any of them? Time will tell. By the way, at this moment, #tanyanajib is trending in ninth position worldwide. We sure have a lot of questions for the Prime Minister!

#tanyanajib Why are roads in KL full of potholes? Dangerous to motorcyclists. DBKL not doing a good job.

#tanyanajib Why is Prasarana/RapidKL so reluctant in using non-step buses? We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Look at Japan and Australia.

#tanyanajib Why is full relief on income tax not given to purchase of rehabilitative and support equipment for disabled people?

#tanyanajib Will you amend UBBL 34A to make it COMPULSORY for all buildings and street environment to have access for disabled people?

#tanyanajib Will the MRT be barrier-free?

#tanyanajib What is the govt doing to prevent abuse of parking and toilet for disabled people?

#tanyanajib Public transport is not accessible. Disabled people stuck at home. What is the govt doing to resolve this?

#tanyanajib Will Malaysia enact punitive anti-discrimination law to protect the rights of disabled people?

#tanyanajib Join OKUs on a wheelchair ride around KL to experience the mega-problems we face everyday. Not much has changed since Akta OKU.

#tanyanajib Is the govt changing “orang kurang upaya” to something more empowering? We certainly are not people of lesser abilities.

What is the govt’s plan in making Malaysia barrier free? If yes, is there a time frame to it? #tanyanajib @ShahrizatJalil