Thursday, December 09, 2010

Please Stop Pitying The Disabled

WITH the year 2010 coming to a quick close in just a matter of weeks – and the observance of International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) having taken place on December 3 last week – the handicapped community the world over are eagerly looking forward to a better future as far as their plight is concerned. 

One of the best-known worldwide disability rights group Disabled Peoples International which is headquartered in Newfoundland in Canada in its statement to mark IDPD used the occasion to point out the key goals of the annual special day which was first established by the United Nations in 1981.

IDPD aims are to bring about a better understanding of what disability is all about and how it affects the people who have them, says DPI which currently has as many as six regional departments from North America to the Asia-Pacific. 

“Disability must be seen as a human rights issue and people with disabilities (PWDs) must be integrated into every aspect of society - at the political, social, economic and cultural levels,” the statement went on. 

The disability international NGO is pleased to note that their ambitions to get the commitment of the various governments of the world to provide an international policy framework for better access and a high quality living for its disabled citizens was strengthened two years ago by a 2006 key document called the “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” of which Malaysia is also a signatory.

The Convention is meant to give an impetus to governments around the world to make good their promise in keeping to the disability rights agenda for the world’s handicapped communities.

Whilst all these are a positive step forward, DPI sadly notes that the gap between policy and practice of governments is still going on.

For this to stop, governments must start including PWDs into each process otherwise the marginalisation of the handicapped will increase even further.

Back in Malaysia, wheelchair-activist Chong Tuck Meng (right) from Bentong in Pahang firmly believes that changes can start happening by some simple steps.

The 49-year old who was paralysed from the neck down after a motorcycle accident 30 years ago suggests a significant mind-shift first about who disabled people really are.

“Just as how ‘re-branding’ is vital to a dying product, it’s time to change our present condescending and negative attitudes towards PWDs or we really won’t get anywhere,” says Chong in an interview with Wheel Power this week.

“Let’s get rid of the present ‘Orang Kurang Upaya’ term in Bahasa meaning  ‘persons who are less capable’ to something which is more positive like ‘Warga Istimewa’ or ‘special citizens’, he adds.

“It’s just like how we now refer to older persons as ‘warga emas’ instead of ‘orang tua’”.

Chong says he thinks there will be much more dignity and respect if society would look at disabled people as a special group instead of being seen as the “less fortunate” or “less able”.

“Let’s also please stop pitying PWDs and looking at them as objects of charity all the time,” Chong points out.

“Doing this during the festive celebrations may make the giver feel good but it’s often a different story for the recipients who are then forgotten for the rest of the year until the festivities return.

“Earning an income for the handicapped should go beyond common stereotypes such as selling lottery tickets, tissues and what not.

“The government can play a significant step in changing such perceptions by organising special projects that highlight the positive talents of PWDs in order to instil public confidence in the abilities of the disabled.

“They can do much more to get employers in the private and government sectors to give them jobs; as well as help in their special needs, such as making their offices accessible to wheelchairs, give a special allowance for transport, etc.”

Private telecommunication companies can also exercise their ‘corporate social responsibility’ part by giving meaningful discounts (and not just tokens) and even waivers to disabled subscribers so that they can catch up and communicate with the rest of the world outside of their homes.

Chong says with the petrol and other prices going up, a-RM500.00 monthly allowance for all disabled people in the country would be the right and timely gift to the handicapped community.

Chong concludes by saying that it is time for everyone to get tough with the use of laws to protect the disabled and their rights. 

“Let’s promptly tow all cars belonging to the non disabled at handicapped parking spots and get down hard on local councils that conveniently ignore the building bylaws that require disabled access in towns and cities everywhere.”

Chong is a founder member and adviser of the national disabled society in Kuala Lumpur called “Perwira K9 Malaysia”.

He also plays the same roles for Budi Penyayang and Wheelchair Basketball in the state of Pahang.

The End

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