TODAY is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).
Like every third day of the month in December since the early 1990’s, this special UN-sponsored-day has been set aside for world communities to basically do three things: Stop, Think and Act in the interest of people with disabilities (PwD) around the globe.
Malaysia is no exception.
In fact, this morning Selangor Welfare Chairman Rodziah Ismail will be launching a very unique awards ceremony at The Curve’s pedestrian shopping mall for persons with learning difficulties.
For the first time ever kids and young people with intellectual handicaps at the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) event are being recognised for some of their greatest personal achievements that often go unnoticed by society.
These are their abilities in passing their year six exams, for example; holding a simple job, doing the laundry or serving drinks.
Likewise, disabled residents like the blind and those in wheelchairs in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, are also in for a treat on Saturday.
That is the day when Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil will be paying them a special visit to mark IDPD.
“Holding grand events at hotels, I’ve discovered, have not always been an effective way in getting to know people,” said Datuk Seri Sharizat to Wheel Power last week.
“But this year going down to where the PwD really are such as in an area where many blind people are located, is a much better way to touch base with them and find out what their problems are,” she added.
Syabas to both the Honourable Minister and the Selangor Exco Council Member for their new ways of tackling issues of the disabled.
However, there are still much more things that our governments both at the Federal and local bodies – including the public – can do in order to raise the quality of lives of all Malaysians with disabilities in the country.
The first and most important of all is to discard all preconceived concepts and notions about disability and be ready to adopt totally new and progressive ones.
In my advocacy work, I am most surprised to note that some people still have outdated views of the handicapped.
PwD’s are still labelled as “sick” and are expected to be seen with their wheelchairs and crutches only in hospitals and clinics rather than in a cinema, pub or even a dance floor.
I was in PJ Hilton recently with a group of physically disabled patrons when one of them in crutches and callipers badly needed a wheelchair.
We were quite shocked when the hotel flatly refused his request with the excuse that their wheelchair was reserved for “accident cases” only.
It wasn’t after almost a dozen of us in wheelchairs had demanded to see the top brass of the hotel when a wheelchair finally arrived.
However, our friend had to wait in agonising pain for a full hour before he could go to the loo downstairs on the ground floor.
And to think that the ruckus transpired at a seminar on “compassion” as the main theme was unimaginable.
Local councils in every state and town need to set up a special technical committee on disability of their own as soon as possible. It should meet at least once a month like what happens now in MBPJ.
It is also vital to include persons with disabilities in the committee. This will enable the council to get first-hand input of the kinds of problems that the council will have to anticipate in order to make their cities and towns with ergonomic designs.
Experts from the medical world such as rehabilitation specialists, neurologists, geriatricians (to advise on senior citizens physical and mental needs) and even psychiatrists (for the mentally ill) should also be consciously invited into the committee wherever possible.
Together as an expert team with disabled and elderly persons, town and city planners and engineers will be better equipped to address fundamental issues starting from the accessibility of pavements and all the way into public and government buildings.
Their expert eye should cover even facilities in elderly and disabled homes and centres throughout the nation ensuring that those who live in them are receiving the best possible care.
Working as a city councillor who heads MBPJ’s technical team on disability, I have for myself witnessed how vital and wonderfully effective such a body is.
Even though our work had only started last year, the results that we have achieved have meant the world to the end users.
These include disabled-friendly covered car parks, improved ergonomic toilet designs for wheelchair users, free local clinics, etc.
The latest success last week was the council’s decision to include free dog licenses for the disabled in view of empowerment through animal-assisted therapy for positive living.
A similar decision for the elderly is pending further discussions.
Without such a crucial committee, as they often say, “we can talk, and talk, and talk, until the cows come home but there won’t be much change.”
Let’s make IDPD work!
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