My Budget 2015 wish list
by Peter Tan. Posted on August 23, 2014, Saturday
THERE is no doubt that a lot more can be done to improve the quality of life of disabled people in the country.
Ask anyone of us and we have a litany of complaints of where the government has been found wanting in its commitments towards our well-being as guaranteed by the law and treaties.
Organisations representing our interests have been engaging the government through dialogues, cooperation and other advocacy activities to little effect.
This insufficient support makes it a constant struggle for us to achieve a reasonable level of participation in society.
The government, through its relevant ministries, departments and statutory bodies, have organised conferences where disability issues have been discussed and pledges made thereafter to work on the resolutions.
I have personally attended and contributed my views as a stakeholder at these events since 2006. Eight years on, similar forums are still being held to discuss the very same issues and participated by many of the same actors. When will we realise that doing the same things over and over again will not produce a different outcome.
Really, we should stop flogging the dead horse already, start rolling up our sleeves and get some real work done. Otherwise, we will still be paying lip service until the cows come home.
What we need is for the government to put its money where its mouth is.
In the run up to the budget announcement for the previous years, it is the usual practice for the said organisations to put in memorandums entreating for allocations to alleviate the difficulties faced by disabled people.
More than often these appeals fell on deaf ears.
Therefore, when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak invited the public to participate in the process of formulating Budget 2015, I was naturally sceptical on the changes this initiative can bring in reversing the plight we are in.
Despite the let-downs, there are always these little sparks of eternal hope within that continue to prod me on.
The keyword here is hope. There is always a possibility that we may get a slice of the budget if we ask for it. On the other hand, not doing anything at all will definitely result in nothing.
There are 16 categories where feedback can be put forward for consideration in this year’s budget.
Issues on financial support, health assistance, special education, disabled-friendly facilities and support services are sought for the social welfare category for disabled people and other disadvantaged groups.
I did not have to think hard for what I want and what the disabled community needs. My wish list is the fundamentals that have the potential to uplift the quality of life of disabled people.
They are infrastructure, education and employment. These are all guaranteed in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. Infrastructure in this context comprises the built environment and public transport system. These two are the most crucial components in the scheme of things when it comes to solving disability issues.
First and foremost, an accessible built environment paves the way for disabled people to be out and about safely, conveniently and independently.
An accessible public transport system completes the link to enable us access to other essential public services in place not practically reachable by foot.
The connectivity for both is broken in many places where disabled people are concerned. The federal government working in parallel with the local government in these two areas can result in the exponential increase of accessible facilities.
A sum should be included in every year’s budget for the construction and upgrading of walkways, bus stops, ramps, toilets and other facilities that are under the purview of the authorities. To encourage public transport operators to provide accessible services, tax breaks and incentives should be given for the acquisition of such vehicles.
Education is important. It equips individuals with knowledge, skills and qualifications in making them employable.
A report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) estimated that more than 90 per cent of disabled children in developing countries do not attend school.
An inclusive education system requires more than building accessible facilities in schools and universities. The faculty of teachers and support staff need to be trained with appropriate skills to support the learning of disabled students from early childhood.
There is currently a dearth of such schools and competent personnel.
Other than allocations for the construction of accessible facilities in preschools, schools and universities, full scholarships and professional training together with incentives for further career development should be offered to encourage more teachers and support staff to work in this field.
The cascading effect of accessible built environment and public transport system will allow disabled people to access formal education which in turn will let us acquire the necessary academic qualifications to become employable.
Although the government provides an allowance and tax relief to disabled people who are working and double deduction of remuneration paid to disabled workers for employers, there are very few disabled people in the workforce.
It is difficult to convince the private sector to actively employ disabled people when the government cannot even fulfil its own policy of employing 1 per cent disabled people in the civil service. There were only 1,754 disabled workers in the public sector out of 1.4 million as of December 2012.
The reasons for this low employment rate in the private and public sector is due to inaccessibility or poor connectivity in the public transport system, workplaces that are not barrier free and not having the proper qualifications.
Casting my reservations aside and since the Prime Minister has asked for public participation, I harbour great hopes that he will pay more attention to this simple wish list appealing for action in making the public infrastructure and education more accessible to disabled people in Budget 2015.
The public has until tomorrow (Aug 24) to submit ideas, concerns and needs to the dedicated microsite 1malaysia.com.my/bajet2015/ or through the PM’s Facebook page (fb.com/najibrazak).
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