Can Datuk Seri Jeanne Abdullah Effect Change For Disabled People?

The Star reported that Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, the wife of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was touched by the disabled-friendly facilities she saw at the Paralympic Games Village when she was in Beijing to visit Malaysian Paralympians. Datuk Seri Jeanne is urging developers to design more disabled friendly housing projects, saying that the nation should do more for disabled people.

I hope this message will not fall on deaf ears. Disabled people in Malaysia have been facing such issues far longer than the 24 years that I have been on a wheelchair. Perhaps Datin Seri Jeanne is not aware that Malaysia already has the Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A) that requires all public buildings to comply with Malaysian Standard MS 1183 and MS 1184. MS 1184 is the Code of Practice on Access for Disabled People to Public Buildings. It specifies how accessible facilities inside buildings should be built. The UBBL 34A has been gazetted by the various states in the mid-1990s.

Sadly, this provision in the UBBL 34A is seldom enforced by local governments. Public buildings are still allowed to be constructed without fulfilling the said requirements. To exacerbate matters, there is no law to ensure that external built environment such as pedestrian walkways are accessible to disabled people although a code of practice in the form of Malaysian Standard MS 1331 has been drawn up for such purposes.

The newspaper report also stated that Datuk Seri Jeanne hoped schools will encourage children to help disabled people if they come across one and that we should change our mindset to be more caring. Although it is heartening to note that she is trying to inculcate a caring attitude in students, it would have been better if we can build a society where disabled people can live independently instead of depending on such ad hoc forms of assistance. At the moment, disabled people, especially those with severe impairments, are unable to practice independent living because of the prejudices against disabled people.

Society still hold on to the view that disabled people cannot do things for themselves and therefore cannot live independently. There is this notion that disabled people need charity to survive. These are all fallacies. People are disabled by the environment and attitudes, and not by their conditions. It is how we build things and how we perceive disabled people that is disabling. Malaysia has to move from the antiquated Medical Model of Disability to the Social Model of Disability in order for disabled people to benefit from a level playing field in society.

Medical Model of Disability sees the disabled person as the problem. It emphasizes the rehabilitation of disabled people to make them fit into society. The focus is on correcting the impairment rather than meeting the needs. Social Model of Disability defines the difference between impairment and disability. Impairment does not necessarily lead to disability. People are disabled by manmade environmental barriers and social prejudices. The Social Model of Disability advocates the restructuring of society to eliminate institutional discrimination. It promotes the establishment of a conducive environment where disabled people can coexist on equal terms with society in general.

In my working trips overseas, I have met people with severe physical impairments in that are living independently in their communities. They are able to achieve this through a social support system that provides personal assistants, peer counselling and independent living skills training, among others. The accessible built environment and public transport system also plays an important role in enabling disabled people to move around conveniently to participate in the activities of the community that they live in.

Disabled people in Malaysia have been screaming themselves hoarse to advocate for similar social support systems to enable us to live independently in the community too. If it can be done in other countries, it can be done here. For one reason or another, issues of disabled people have not been given the attention it deserves. Disabled people are still being marginalized in all areas in society.

Where disability rights advocates have failed, perhaps Datuk Seri Jeanne can whisper into the ear of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to seriously look into the issues affecting disabled people in a holistic manner? Surely a few words from lips of the wife is worth a thousand words of disability rights advocates who have been unsuccessful in impressing the government on the real and urgent needs of disabled people.

The Star
Monday September 8, 2008
Jeanne visits paralympic team

BEIJING: Developers have been urged to design more disabled-friendly housing projects.

Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, the wife of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was touched by the disabled-friendly facilities she saw at the Paralympic Games Village here, said: “We should do more for the disabled.

“I hope schools will encourage and teach children to help (the disabled) if they see a disabled (person). We should change our mindset to be more caring,” she added.

Pointing at the disabled-friendly ATM machine booth, Jeanne said the facilities in the village showed the level of consideration for the disabled.

She was also awed by the spirit of the paralympians and the courage displayed by them, saying that Malaysians could emulate them.

“This is what we should be doing in our country,” she said, hoping that Malaysians could raise the level of consideration for the disabled.

Jeanne, the patron of the Malaysian Paralympic Council, was accompanied by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysian Ambassador to China Datuk Syed Norulzaman Kamarulzaman, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Ab Hakim Borhan and National Sports Council director-general Datuk Zolkples Embong to the games village here.

On the Malaysian paralympians, Jeanne, who met them in the village, said Abdullah had conveyed his best wishes to them.

The Malaysian paralympians will begin their respective events today.

Peter Tan Is A Selfish Disabled Person – The Sequel

Read this and this for context before reading on.

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
President ILTC

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.

Warkah Buat Pak Lah

Dear Pak Lah,
I just saw in the news on tv that you made a surprise check on KTM Komuter and Kelana Jaya Line. You saw for yourself the problems that people are facing when using these two lines. Did you see any wheelchair user in the trains? Did you see any disabled person while you were waiting at the station? No? If 5% to 10% of the population is disabled, you should statistically see at least one disabled person out of every ten non-disabled people that you met at the train stations. Do you know why?

Come, let me tell you. It is very simple. The external built environment, the first step towards the liberty of wheelchair users, is full of barriers. There are no ramps to pedestrian walkways. Sometimes, there are no walkways at all. We have to risk life and limbs to go on the road to move from point to point and risk being hit by vehicles. There are also very few pedestrians crossing for us to cross the road safely.

The buses – no wheelchair user can get into one. Government-owned RapidKL and RapidPenang have promised to make their buses friendly to us. None are despite the repeated promises. We waited and waited. In the end, the supposedly wheelchair-friendly RapidKL buses that were shown to us had badly designed ramps and rickety wheelchair restraining system and very few bus stop that wheelchair users could get to. So no go there too.

Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen said that only 50 disabled people have applied for the 10,000 jobs made available in the public sector. She also said that disabled people “cannot just expect us to knock on your doors and inform you about the opportunities.”

Truth be told dear Pak Lah, we do not expect Dr. Ng to come knocking on our doors one by one to inform us of job openings. No, she has more important things to accomplish than to do that. We know there are openings but how are we supposed to go to work when almost all the infrastructure in the country is hostile to disabled people. The built environment is against us. There is no public transport that we can take.

When disabled people cannot even access these two basic facilities safely and conveniently, how can we go to school to get an education and acquire the necessary qualifications to be gainfully employed? How can we go to workplaces when the same problems in the built environment and public transport still beset us?

Pak Lah, please listen to our heartfelt pleas. We have been marginalized for so long that our community have been left far behind as compared to the rest of the rakyat. Most of us are under-qualified, unemployed and dependent on our family or charity to survive. We feel so depressed sometimes thinking about the pathetic situation we are in now.

We want to be active participants in society and contribute meaningfully to nation-building. We want to lead a fulfilling and productive life. We are unable to because of these unresolved problems. Do you know how ridiculous it is that Datuk Sheikh Muzaphar could go to the International Space Station which is more than 300km away in outer space and come back safely while a wheelchair users like me cannot even get to KLCC from Pandan Perdana which is a mere 10km apart in distance using public transport?

Pak Lah, we beseech you to use all the power and resources within your means to correct this situation. Disabled people do not want to be still marginalized like this when Malaysia achieves developed nation status in 2020. I hope you will find that little spark of conscience in your heart to do what is right in this matter. I look forward to the day when Malaysia is a country with infrastructure that is inclusive and accessible to everyone. It is then that the government can say with a firm conviction that Malaysia is truly a masyarakat penyayang.

Thank you for your time.

Yours very sincerely,
Peter Tan
Wheelchair user of 24 years