Wednesday, December 05, 2007

HERE IS A LETTER that was printed on Malaysiakini on International Disabled Day which fell on December 3.

The writer is an adviser to Petpositive as well as Secretary to the Support Group Society of the Blind in Malaysia or Supporteam.


On Dec 3, spare a thought for our disabled
By Captain Abdul Karim Stuart Russell Dec 3, 07 4:02pm (Picture, above, courtesy by Ruhaidy Mat Rasul)

United Nation's International Day of Disabled Persons, which is celebrated today on Dec 3, is yet another wonderful opportunity to promote understanding, increase public awareness of disability issues and to promulgate the importance of independence, ease of movement, integration, dignity, equal rights and the well-being of persons with all kinds of disability.

However, here in Malaysia, a year after Action and Inclusion for the Disabled (AID) wrote a letter regarding the 2006 International Day of Disabled Persons, nothing of any substance has changed.

Thus, we fear that this will another valuable opportunity lost. Accessibility to most facilities, such as buildings, public transport, footpaths and road crossings, even those that have been recently built is not possible, since they have not been properly designed and constructed to be usable by everyone.

Access to buildings is still a novelty and is by no means universally available. Some buildings, which were constructed in the past 12 months, are totally inaccessible to any person using a wheelchair. RapidKL, a new public transport company set up by the government, has introduced so-called “disabled accessible” buses in the past year.

But these vehicles have been incorrectly designed. The area designed to accommodate two persons using wheelchairs occupies almost half the available floor space and there are only two seats in this half of the bus.

Furthermore the access ramp is unsafe. The able-bodied could perhaps be excused if they feel angry for having to stand due to the lack of seats. In Penang, the situation is even worse. The new RapidPenang buses are universally inaccessible. Over the last 18 months, AID has been meeting regularly to discuss routing and accessibility options for the Penang monorail with Melewar Integrated Engineering. We are confident that they have addressed and incorporated the requirements of the disabled into their monorail design.

We sincerely hope that whichever company wins the bid to construct the Penang Monorail will ensure that the monorail system is universally-designed to be accessible to all and that the routing and stops will enable it achieve the goal of serving all Penangites who live along its route.

Most pavements are still inaccessible to persons using wheelchairs, the blind and the elderly. Sometimes, there are ramps of sorts but more often than not they are too steep and or too high. There are obstructions on pavements, such as lamp posts, trees, sign posts, non-flush manholes, open drains, missing tiles, holes and so forth.

Tactile markings to guide the blind are sometimes installed, but without thought and totally ignorant of the required specifications. We have observed recently in our capital city, Kuala Lumpur, a new pavement of about 1.2 metres wide. Where the tactile markings turned ninety degrees left, within few centimetres of a wall, then ninety degrees right, ninety degrees right again and finally ninety degrees left.

All this was to go around a grating about 60cm x 60cm. These guiding marks are confusing and potentially dangerous. It has also been noted that motorcycles use the ramps to access footpaths which they use either as shortcuts around traffic jams or as parking spaces.

The parking of cars on footpaths is also a common sight. Decent work is still a dream for most people with disabilities. Many employers strongly resist employing a person with disabilities believing they will be unable to perform their roles and would not be “cost effective.” This attitude may be rooted in the lack of awareness, ignorance or perhaps, a fear of the unknown. Interviewers, more often than not, focus on the disability rather than on the capabilities of the individual.

Empirical evidence shows that persons with disabilities have high performance ratings, high retention rates and better attendance records than their colleagues without disabilities.

Furthermore, the additional cost of providing suitable facilities for employees with disabilities can be minimal with most requiring few, if any, special facilities.

Studies have also shown that there are other benefits to employers of persons with disabilities, such as improved workforce morale and increased customer goodwill. Persons with disabilities experience a very high rate of unemployment in Malaysia. There is therefore an urgent and vital need to reduce the employment and income gap between persons with disabilities and those without.

Empty promises and unproductive meetings, seminars and conferences, as we have experienced in the past, are not effective ways forward.

Half-hearted action, lip service, discrimination and marginalisation will not help disabled persons in Malaysia live an independent, integrated, dignified, equitable, productive, and happy lives during which they can raise a family and contribute to the well-being of their family and the nation. Effective, well-thought out and wide-ranging legislation and strict enforcement outlawing the discrimination of persons with disabilities will be a concrete step forward. Malaysia needs a comprehensive ‘Disability Discrimination Act’.

There are many such acts in force throughout the world that can be used as models. Furthermore, the disabled must be allowed to take part in the drafting process. The writer is a master mariner and spokesperson for Action and Inclusion for the Disabled (AID).

Click HERE for Karim's future letter in NST.

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