The Star Online reported that Senator Datuk Lee Sing Chooi died of heart attack on Tuesday night. Datuk Lee is the MCA Parliamentary Affairs Bureau chief. I met him only once when I went to Parliament House with members of the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) to meet Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen who was then the Deputy Finance Minister regarding public transport for disabled people. Datuk Lee had invited us to witness the proceedings in the Dewan Negara after the meeting. May he rest in peace. My deepest condolences to the family of Datuk Lee for their loss.
There was a time when I would get all upbeat over such news in the mainstream media. Now, whenever I read about the government’s plans to alleviate the problems faced by disabled people, I get all skeptical. I have heard one too many empty promises made by politicians on such matters. I have also seen one too many leaders of disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) who sit in high-powered committees but do nothing to advocate for the rights of disabled people.
Nevertheless, I applaud Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen for realising that Malaysia needs to shift from the charity-based model to a rights-based one where the issues of disabled people are concerned. The charity-based model demeans the dignity of disabled people by reducing them to positions of passive recipients whose fate are dependent on the generosity of the benefactors.
Given a choice, disabled people do not want to be given fishes all the time. We want to learn to fish to be self sufficient. We want to be the master of our destiny. No man should decide how another person should live his life. Disabled people must be allowed to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives.
Disabled people must be given the same opportunities as everyone else to live life as independently as possible. Such independence is impossible at the moment because of all the physical barriers in the environment as well as the prejudices against disabled people.
Although I may have my skepticisms, I really hope am wrong and that with the formation of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities the government and the representatives of disabled people will work towards restoring the rights of disabled people in Malaysia. The members of the council, especially disabled persons, should speak out without fear or favour on all issues affecting the community.
I see some familiar faces of wheelchair users in the council, namely, Sia Siew Chin of Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled, Anthony Arokia of the Persatuan Mobiliti Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur. They must always remember that they are not representing themselves, their organizations or people with disabilities such as theirs only but all disabled people and especially people with very severe disabilities.
They must put the interests of all disabled people in Malaysia above that of their own. They must not abuse their positions for self-benefit and the benefit of their respective organizations only. Most of all, they must understand what rights are as opposed to privileges and advocate accordingly.
Disabled people in Malaysia have been marginalized for so long that many have come to see charity as God-sent. Many disabled people’s organizations are also charity-based because it is easier to appeal to the goodwill of society to provide for their members than to get the government to play their part by supporting the needs of their members.
The government has a duty to ensure that disabled people have equalization in opportunities in all aspects and provide the necessary social support to achieve such means. By that I do not mean the various allowances given out by the government to disabled people. Money is not everything. The built environment and the public transport system must cater to the needs of disabled people so that they will have opportunities participate in activities of society.
Those two are areas that the government has failed to deliver despite numerous promises by different ministers during the past two years. Without an accessible built environment and public transport system, disabled people will continue to be trapped in our own homes. Therefore, my yardstick to judge the effectiveness of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities is whether they can resolve the two long outstanding issues in the immediate future. Five years is a reasonable timeframe to ensure that the government deliver the most basic of those facilities. Can the council uplift disabled people from the pathetic situations that they are in now? Time will tell.
Home > Metro > Central
Monday August 18, 2008
Rights of disabled people to be taken care of
BY LOONG MENG YEE,
THE Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 has been gazetted and came into force on July 7. This is the first rights-based legislation for people with disabilities (PWD).
“With the enforcement of the Act, PWDs will be able to enjoy better public transport facilities, amenities and services.
“They will also have equal opportunities to health, education, information, communication and technology, habilitation and re-habilitation, improved employment opportunities as well as sports, leisure and cultural life,” said Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen.
“At this point, it is too early for us to assess the effectiveness of the Act.
“Issues affecting the development and well-being of PWDs are cross- cutting, from rehabilitation to housing and social safety.
“Therefore, the responsibility to ensure the PWDs enjoy the rights enshrined in the Act has to be shared by all.
Fight for our rights: Dr Ng (fourth from right) and the rest of the team in the National Council for the People with Disabilities.
“The ministry and the National Council for Persons with Disabilities established under this Act will have to play a crucial role to address and bring foward issues affecting PWDs,” said Dr Ng at the first council meeting recently.
She added the council would oversee, co-ordinate and evaluate the implementation of the National Policy and National Plan for Action relating to PWDs.
Dr Ng said Malaysia had moved from charity-based to rights-based to address the issues affecting PWDs. The Department of Social Welfare was committed to the cause of ensuring full participation of PWDs into society.
“The department had introduced rights-based programmes such as Disability Equality Training and Independent Living to PWDs.
“Community-based rehabilitation is promoted and further strengthened to provide early intervention, rehabilitation and training for PWDs in their own community.
“So far, the welfare department supports 379 community-based rehabilitation centres, benefiting 12,000 PWDs,” said Dr Ng.
Until May, there were 229,325 PWDs registered with the Welfare Department.
This figure was way too low for the World Health Organisation estimate of between 5% and 10% of the population.
Going by that estimate, Malaysia should be registering 1.3 to 2.6 million PWDs. Dr Ng urged those who had not registered to do so.
It is commendable that the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen has taken the initiative to set up a task force to encourage more disabled people to get jobs in the public sector. This is a big step for disabled people who have thus far find it difficult to get jobs due to a multitude of reasons.
The task force should not only concentrate in making work places accessible. It should also conduct programmes to educate colleagues of disabled people through Disability Equality Training (DET) to make them understand the prime causes of why people are disabled. At the expense of flogging the dead horse again, people are disabled by the environment and attitudes rather than by their condition.
Take one of the most basic but crucial facility – the toilet – for example. Toilets that are not large enough to accommodate a wheelchair prevents a wheelchair user from using it. He is disabled by facilities that he cannot use. Provide toilets that adheres to the Malaysian Standard MS 1184: Code of Practice on Access for Disabled Persons to Public Buildings (MS 1184) and the wheelchair user is no longer disabled when he needs to use one.
Nevertheless, toilets are only part of the problem for disabled people who are seeking employment. There should be a comprehensive policy to ensure that people who have impairments are not marginalised in areas of education. Malaysian Confederation of the Disabled secretary Bathmavathi Krishnan was correct in saying that “the ministry’s move would encourage the disabled to acquire higher academic qualifications.”
Everybody knows that education is of utmost importance, not only for disabled people seeking gainful employment, but also for non-disabled people. What I would like to know is how many of our mainstream schools are physically accessible to disabled people? Without accessible schools disabled people are unable to get even a primary education, let alone getting qualifications at the tertiary level.
To get to the schools, public transport must be accessible. The same goes for the necessity of an accessible public transport for disabled people to commute from their homes to work places. The walkways from the home to the bus stop and from the bus stop to the work places must be accessible. The public facilities in Malaysia has not reached that level of accessibility yet. To talk about employment when basic infrastructure is not in place yet is putting the horse before the cart.
The government can allocate 1% or even 10% of jobs in the civil service for disabled people. Without first resolving the core issues, I dare say that not many disabled people will benefit from this policy. If Dr. Ng is serious in this matter, she must work with the Minister of Education, Minister of Transport, Minister of Housing and Local Government, and other relevant ministries to tackle the deficiencies in the entire system. Otherwise, this may just be another brilliant plan that will never see fruition.
The Star Online
Wednesday May 7, 2008
Task force to get more disabled into civil service
KUALA LUMPUR: A task force is being set up to encourage more disabled people to work in the public sector, said Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen.
She said the ministry wanted feedback on how to create a suitable working environment for the disabled.
Help for disabled: Dr Ng pushing Bathmavathi as they move together with Malaysian Federation of the Deaf president Mohamad Sazali Shaari (left) and Dr Wong.
The task force would comprise ministry, Public Service Department (PSD) and disabled representatives.
This would also help PSD achieve its aim of having at least 1% of the government workforce, or 10,000 workers, being the disabled, she said.
Currently, there are 220,000 disabled persons registered with the Social Welfare Department. Only 581 of them are working in the public service and fewer than 5,000 in the private sector.
Dr Wong Huey Siew, Society for the Blind Malaysia’s Employment and Computer Development chairman, said around 50% of disabled persons left their jobs within six months.
Malaysian Confederation of the Disabled secretary K. Bathmavathi said the ministry’s move would encourage the disabled to acquire higher academic qualifications.