International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2012

The United Nations declared December 3 every year as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I would prefer to call it the International Day of Disabled Persons but that is another story for another day. Approximately 1 billion people or 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability. The theme for 2012, “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all” is very apt as many disability-rights advocates have been demanding for the removal of barriers for a long time to enable equal participation of disabled people.

These barriers are not limited only to the built environment but are prevalent in attitudes in the form of prejudice, ignorance and discrimination. I am not proud to say that Malaysia is still a nation where disabled people are marginalised, discriminated against and face countless barriers every day of our lives. Even with legislation, the quality of life of disabled persons have not improved much in contrast to the rest of the population.

The requirements of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A that buildings must be accessible to disabled persons are ignored by the local authorities most of the time. More than fifteen years after it was gazetted by the various state governments, many buildings, including new buildings, are still full of barriers. And as far as I am concerned, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 also have not done much to alleviate the situation.

Public transport and the built environment continue to remain inaccessible. These in turn make it difficult for disabled people to gain access to education, employment, medical care and participate in politics and religion. Ours is a government that is reactive. They need to be kicked to get rolling. Otherwise, the rights of disabled people are often ignored and forgotten.

Legislations are only effective when enforced. Sad to say, officials from the ministerial down to the municipal levels entrusted with implementation and enforcement have miserably failed in their duties. Legitimate grouses were swept under the carpet and complaints were ignored. These governments in different manifestations are the biggest stumbling blocks to making society accessible and inclusive as they have the all resources at their disposal to make it happen. Yet they do not bother.

At the same time, NGOs, activists and advocates have to pull their act together. We are weak because we are not united. We do not speak in one voice. We abuse our positions as leaders of the disability movement in Malaysia by squabbling over personal issues. We sacrifice the needs of the many to benefit the personal agendas of the few. We sabotage others’ efforts. We still practice charity-based activities when we should be advocating for our rights. We spend so much resources, time and effort in fighting each other that we have lost sight of the big picture. I strongly believe that much could have been achieved had we worked as one unit. It is still not too late though.

On the whole, Malaysia cannot claim we have arrived as a nation if the rights of minorities and marginalised are not respected. The theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a timely call for everyone to work together to make society inclusive. The governments have to play their part. Society in general has to play its part. Most importantly, disabled people must come together to speak in unison on issues that affect us as a community. Removing barriers is not that difficult if we each understand our roles. An inclusive and accessible society benefits everyone. Lets make an effort to work towards that.

A New Dawn For The Disability Movement In Malaysia

Winds of change are coming. Impatient as I have been, this is part of the entire process that cannot be hurried. I am a firm believer that there is a place and time for everything. Yet, so often, I forget. But fall in place they do, in their own time.

Disability in Malaysia has evolved from charity-based to rights-based with the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. At the same time, the disability movement is increasingly practicing a structured and knowledge-based engagement with the relevant stakeholders apart from persuasive and hard-nosed advocacy. These include the Independent Living Programme and Disability Equality Training that were introduced to the movement in 2005 by the Department of Social Welfare and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The Independent Living Programme advocates for the provision of support services to enable disabled people to live independently in the community. Disability Equality Training explains disability in a logical manner and encourages commitments to break environmental and attitudinal barriers. Both work in tandem to realise the participation of disabled people in all areas of life.

These two platforms have transformed the disability landscape in the country somewhat but more can be done towards achieving that goal. Now, we have new allies from the Pusat Rakyat Loyar Buruk who are spearheading a revolution to expedite the process of making Malaysia more accessible and inclusive. For once, I may just have the opportunity to witness substantial changes to the built environment in my lifetime.

Kuching – Day 1 Part 2 of 2: October 21, 2012

Our flight landed at the Kuching International Airport 25 minutes late as it arrived late at KLIA from Changi earlier. A short while after the aircraft docked, I saw a ground crew lugging my wheelchair up the stairs into the aeroridge.

Wheelchair being delivered to the boarding gate after landing
Malaysia Airlines ground crew delivering my wheelchair to the boarding gate at Kuching International Airport.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

I got off the plane in less than 10 minutes after the last passenger stepped off. It was faster than I had expected. As soon as I transferred to my wheelchair, I checked to see if all parts were intact. I ran my fingers over each and every of the fibre spokes. None were broken. I leaned forward to see if the casters fluttered as I was being pushed to the baggage claim area. They rolled smoothly. Fluttering casters indicate a bent fork or worse, a damaged frame. I breathed a sigh of relief.

We were greeted by the officers from the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Negeri Sarawak outside the arrival hall. They were there to take us to the Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites, the venue of the seminar and also our place of accommodation. In the same vehicle with Victor and I were Katsura Oikawa, Chief Advisor on Project to Support Participation of Persons with Disabilities (Phase II) to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Terumi Shikata, JKM-JICA Project Coordinator. We were in the same flight from Kuala Lumpur just now.

Somewhere near Kuching International Airport
First view of Kuching somewhere near the Kuching International Airport.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

When we got to our room in the hotel I discovered that my wheelchair could barely fit through the bathroom door. I could go in as far as the basin counter only. The toilet bowl blocked the way to the shower area. As I catheterised, I wondered how I could get past the toilet bowl to take a shower. Obviously, that was not an accessible room.

Meeting Phyllis and Joanna for the first time
Joanna Yap, Phyllis Wong, Victor Chin and Peter Tan at Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites, Kuching, Sarawak.

First order of the day in Kuching was a meet up with Phyllis for lunch at the hotel and a press interview at the same time with her colleague Joanna from the Borneo Post. Phyllis got this lovely gift for Wuan, a traditional ceramic bead necklace made by a famous craftswoman of the Lun Bawang tribe in Sarawak. Thank you, Yan!

Handmade bead necklace made by craftswoman of the Lun Bawang tribe in Sarawak
Lun Bawang bead necklace – a lovely gift from Phyllis to Wuan.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Friends have insisted that I must at least eat laksa and kolo mee while there. The Aurora Court only had the former albeit at an exceptionally inflated price. The Sarawak laksa looked somewhat similar to Penang curry me. Joanna told me that Sarawakians take exception to their laksa being equated with curry mee. The gravy did not taste the same though. The other difference is that the chilli by the side came with calamansi lime.

First taste of Sarawak laksa
Sarawak laksa at the Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites, Kuching, Sarawak.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

We adjourned to the Seattle Coffee & Tea at the other end of the lobby to continue with our conversation and the interview after lunch. I enjoyed the conversations that the four of us had. We not only talked about disability issue but also the heritage buildings in Malaysia and the people of Kuching and their food.

Victor suggested that we go on a short city tour by car for me to see the sights in Kuching as it would be difficult to move around by wheelchair due to the poor accessibility of the street environment. The concierge hailed a taxi for us, a Toyota Innova, that I struggled to get into due to its high seats.

Promenade along Santubong River at Kuching
Kuching Waterfront.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Joanna played tourist guide as she narrated the significance and history of the various buildings and landmarks along the way. I thought the Kuching Waterfront is an interesting place to hangout for watching boats traverse the meandering Santubong River and people going about their activities along both sides of the riverbanks.

The Great Cat of Kuching
This cat statue at Jalan Padungan will be dressed according to the various festival celebrated.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

It was said that one has not really visited Kuching if one has not seen the cat statues located at several intersections of main roads in the city. The cat statue at Jalan Padungan, we were told, would be garbed in different ethnic costumes according the the festival of the day. It was just plain white when we visited.

The half-hour tour around Kuching, while enjoyable, revealed that moving around in a wheelchair would be very difficult and dangerous. I was glad we took the easy way by cab. If not, it would have been one struggle after another moving from place to place. Nevertheless, I certainly would like to visit this city again to savour the old world charms and for the food that I did not get the opportunity to savour. Thank you again, Yan, for arranging this wonderful tour at the spur of the moment and for insisting to pay for everything.

Kueh chap
Kueh chap in Kuching – pork, innards, coagulated and tau kua braised in soy sauce gravy.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Back at the hotel, after a short rest, Victor got dinner from a popular kuey chap shop nearby. It was different from the kueh chap that I used to eat in Penang. Meat, innards and coagulated blood were braised in a soy sauce gravy. It tasted very similar to tau eu bak. The belly pork I had was tender. I liked it very much, and truth be told, I exceeded my protein quota for the day.

Backdrop for the Sarawak State Supported Employment Seminar 2012 at the Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

There was a meeting of speakers later in the evening. It was to ensure that our presentations and the equipment would be running smoothly during the seminar. Good thing we did a trial run as the first laptop we used could run stream the videos. The videos running in second laptop did not have sound. After fiddling with the settings for some time, we got everything to run perfectly. I went back to my room and hoped it would work during the seminar as I would be the first speaker for the day. But Murphy’s Law struck when I least expected it the next day.