Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ronnie Liu Takes A Bold Step For The Disabled

SOMETHING truly wonderful transpired for people with disabilities in the state of Selangor last week.

The epoch-making occasion to raise the quality of lives of Malaysians with disabilities was held at the Selangor state secretariat building last Friday.

When it was over, all of us in wheelchairs and other types of disabilities couldn’t stop ourselves beaming from ear to ear just thinking about the ramifications of the event and how for the first time for as long as we can remember, the needs of Malaysians with disabilities will finally be looked into in bringing about meaningful change for everybody.    

It started at a press conference event that was called by Ronnie Liu, the state’s chairman of local government, study and research committee.

More than half a dozen nongovernmental organisations for people with disabilities turned up.

I saw that they were well represented.   

The Deaf community was there along with the blind. A rep from persons with learning disabilities was also present.

Even the breakdown of wheelchair users was perfect: there was someone who was paralysed from his neck down; those handicapped from the waist down, someone with walking difficulties who also used a wheelchair and even a woman with brittle bones.

Many people don’t realise that wheelchair users don’t necessarily have the same needs. Depending on their level of paralyses, their special needs often differ from each other.

We were all there to form a special committee at the state level. Headed by Liu as the adviser, the meetings will be chaired by a person with a disability.

Our mission is to spend the next three months at least visiting all the 11 local councils in Selangor to help them set up a disability committee as soon as possible.

The Petaling Jaya City Council is an exception to this rule because it already has had an active disability committee that has been meeting every month since three years ago.      

The purpose of setting up the committee with disabled persons in it is to ensure that local councils will actively pursue programmes for handicapped and elderly citizens.

The committee will constantly inspire, remind and even monitor the progress stages of each local council’s efforts in creating a barrier-free environment where all citizens can benefit.

It was established at the event that positive changes like this can only come about when the local councils actively engage people with disabilities in their building plans.

The local council chief underscored the importance of local councils working with NGOs for the disabled.

“People with disabilities are in the best position and should be recognised as the experts to advise governments on disabilities,” said Liu.    

In addition to the setting up of the committee, here are some other important issues that were mentioned at the press conference:

  • The special committee under Liu will be providing the names of the NGOs for each of the local councils.
  • The committee will also be involved in education programmes. Liu immediately set aside RM10,000 for the committee. A special national forum is being planned for all local councils throughout the country in June of this year. The purpose of this special forum is to encourage all other local councils to also set up disability committees of their own.
  • A special booklet on how to set up disabled committees in local councils will also be undertaken soon by the special committee.  
  • Plans are also underway to look into a welfare allowance for all disabled persons in the state. It was suggested that the Selangor government look into coming up with a monthly allowance of at least RM500 minimum for each disabled person. Currently, not all disabled Malaysians are entitled to financial aid from the welfare department.
  • A study will also be underway shortly to look into changing the local bylaws to penalise people who abuse facilities that are made for the handicapped. These include non disabled persons parking in handicapped spots as well as for building managements that turn disabled toilets into store rooms for mops, buckets and other things.
  • The Selangor government will also be looking into ensuring that all buildings – even those with only two or three floors – should be equipped with lifts to assist those in wheelchairs and the aged. One of the methods is to come up with incentives for developers who provide such facilities.
“I have never been excited about the previous promises to the disabled as the one I attended last Friday,” chirped 60-year old Taslim bin Kosni who became blind shortly after he was born.
“Finally, not only something very positive for the handicapped in Malaysia but also some strategies that will actually make a lasting difference in our lives,” he told Wheel Power after the meeting.

I couldn’t agree with him more.   
The End
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