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.
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.
Tags: Action Pyramid, Akta OKU 2008, Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008, Big Picture, disabled people Malaysia, discrimination against disabled people, Kuala Lumpur Bar Council, Kuala Lumpur Bar Young Lawyers Committee (KLYLC), Malaysian Bar Council, Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR), Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, Precious Old China Restaurant & Bar, Public Interest Litigation Workshop, Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok (PRLB), PWD Act 2008, Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium, Strategic Litigation Workshop, UBBL 34A, Undang-Undang Kecil 34A Undang-Undang Kecil Bangunan Seragam, Uniform Building By-Law 34A
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.
Tags: Akta OKU 2008, Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008, disabled people Malaysia, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat, Jabatan Pembangunan Orang Kurang Upaya JPOKU, Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita Keluarga dan Masyarakat, OKU, orang kurang upaya, Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, PWD Act 2008, UBBL 34A, Uniform Building By-Law 34A, wheelchair user 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.
Tags: Akta OKU 2008, Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008, disabled people Malaysia, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat, Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA, JKM, MS 1184, Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, Pusat Rakyat Loyar Burok, PWD Act 2008, UBBL 34A, Undang-Undang Kecil 34A Undang-Undang Kecil Bangunan Seragam, Uniform Building By-Law 34A, wheelchair user Malaysia