LAST week was truly a fantabulous week.
The world celebrated the United Nations-sponsored International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on December 3rd as usual – and so did we in Malaysia.
I was most privileged to be at two great local events to commemorate the occasion.
The first was last Saturday with nearly 3000 people, scores of them in wheelchairs and white canes in Kuala Lumpur.
The event, put together by the Women, Family and Community Development Minister not only included a spirited speech by Minister Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil but also a full day carnival on disability.
Visitors could enjoy some of the exciting competitive games as well as learn about the latest services available for the disabled and the good work done by various NGOs to help them.
Although much more modest in size but not to be outdone in any way, more than 200-people gathered at the e@Curve Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya sponsored by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) on the actual day of IDPD last Thursday.
The occasion was opened by Selangor State Welfare, Women Affairs, Science, Technology and Innovation Committee Chairman Rodziah Ismail who equally delivered an impassioned speech on disability in Malaysia.
What I thought was particularly spot-on about this year’s events were several points made in both of the politicians’ speeches that indicate that they not only had listened closely to the voice of the handicapped in Malaysia but also most sincerely had their interests at heart.
1. Disabled need jobs: YB Rodziah said it was high-time that all sectors in society, the private as well as the government go all out to employ the handicapped in the workforce. To do this there must be a deep and sincere sense of commitment from all parties, she added, pointing out that councils like MBPJ and others start filling up the one percent quota in employing the disabled as a start.
On her part, Datuk Seri Shahrizat said that each disabled person should be seen as people with abilities and talents by everyone – not their handicapping conditions – and what they are able to contribute towards society.
2. Time for local councils to get serious: Datuk Seri Sharizat questioned the lackadaisical attitude of local councils throughout the country for not implementing disabled-friendly access at their levels even though the By Laws have been gazetted since the early 1980s. Although it won’t be necessarily an easy task, the Minister promised to check on local councils and make sure that they create disabled-friendly town and cities so that the handicapped throughout Malaysia can got to work, study in schools etc in order to become equal citizens with Malaysians without disabilities. YB Rodziah said that for a start she will get each local council in Selangor to set up a special disability team that meets at least once-a- month to ensure that disability access is top on the agenda of the various local authorities.
3. Mindset Change – disability is everyone’s concern: Datuk Seri Sharizat reminded all decision-makers about the importance of including disabled people in their committees, especially in matters involving them. They are in the best situation to give useful input about their lives and needs, she said. YB Rodziah solemnly pointed out to the non disabled community to be mindful that planning for the disabled and elderly is prudent as we may all become disabled one day through accidents, disease or old age.
One of the striking highlights at both the IDPD events was the fact that people with learning disabilities – who often get the least notice among the disabled category – was honoured with special awards during the celebrations.
The MBPJ event, through help from the Dyslexia Association of Malaysia, honoured children in PJ who successfully completed their year six exams. They also gave a special recognition to young adults with learning difficulties who held jobs as laundry workers.
As wonderful as both the celebrations were, there was still room for further improvements for future IDPD events.
Here is some of the feedback I received:
1. Let’s have some disabled speakers instead of only the able-bodied giving speeches as the day is really for the disabled.
2. Please cut down on able-bodied performers no matter how popular they may be and give disabled undiscovered artistes to showcase their talents. (And please pay them for their services instead of expecting them to do it for free.)
3. Kindly give front seats to the disabled and let the VIPs sit behind the disabled instead for IDPD. Also can we do away with VIP-eating areas, please and mix VIPs with the rest of the disabled so that the VIPs can get a better chance to meet disabled people and even take pictures with them which will be a terrific lifetime memory for the handicapped in their photo albums.
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