MORE than fifty people with disabilities and their caregivers and supporters attended a special half-day workshop on disability rights last Saturday.
Held from 9am until 3pm, the event was put together by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and the Bar Council of Malaysia.
The purpose of the workshop was to get more people with disabilities aware of their constitutional rights in order to raise their quality of lives in Malaysian society.
“All of us, whether we are able or disabled, are handicapped in some way and the only way we can be empowered is through knowing what our constitutional rights are,” said MBPJ councillor Jeyaseelen Anthony who is also a lawyer and organiser of the event.
The workshop was led by Syahredzan Johan, chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee of the Bar Council and his team.
They presented the participants who were made up of the physically disabled and the blind with a scenario where the world would end by 2012.
In a new Earth on another planet, they were asked to come up with what they thought would be essential in order to help them and their specific needs.
When it came to their presentation time after their discussions, each group were hardly at a loss for ideas and plan of action to take to create a better world for the disabled.
At the start of the programme, two of today’s outspoken activists with their rich experience of handicap, gave a 15-minute speech about their perspectives.
This provided plenty of fodder for the round table discussions later.
Here are some of the things they said:
- Francis Siva, 52, paralysed from the neck down since 25 years ago and president of the Independent Living and Training Centre in Rawang, Selangor:
“One of the biggest problems faced by the disabled community in Malaysia is negative attitudes about us. Prejudice towards us still very much abound.
Sadly, we are still seen as ‘charity’ and ‘welfare’ case rather than from a rights-base perspective. We are still fighting for equal treatment with the rest of the society.
Our wheelchairs still can’t go anywhere. Local councils still ignore our rights by still making inaccessible pavements, buses can’t take us, taxis avoid us, buildings don’t want us, etc.
It’s time for a mind-set change – big time and it must start with our politicians!”
- Yam Tong Woo, 57, became totally blind three years ago and is a member of Petpositive, Kuala Lumpur:
The blind, I must say, are sadly still treated as second class citizens in our country. Banking, for instance, is an essential part of our life but when it comes to owning an automated teller machine card, it is virtually out of bounds to us. The blind are not allowed to hold an ATM card which is downright selective discrimination. By contrast, the blind in US and Australia are already using talking automated teller machines which allow them to manage their banking transactions on their own through special headphones.
Because of the lack of tactile guiding blocks, talking lifts, audible traffic lights, Braille notices and others, the blind still cannot operate independently in common places like banks, post offices, transportation hubs and other places.
Even Web accessibility is out of reach to the blind. In US, for example, it is compulsory for all websites to be made fully accessible to the blind. In Malaysia, many of our websites are still not fully accessible such as government and state agencies, some banks and commercial sites. I strongly believe it is our right to equal access to technology and communications.
Recently I travelled overseas on Air Asia. I was pleased when I heard an announcement asking the public to give way to the elderly, persons with special needs and family with small children to board first.
However, my happiness was short lived when other passengers scrambled to get to their seats the moment boarding began. I had to desperately try and protect myself with my white cane.
I was disappointed that the airline staff did nothing to try and stop the rowdy crowd. I was also sad to discover later that an old man in a wheelchair was made to queue with the rest of the passenger when boarding the aeroplane.
A new world that I would like to create will have all these support systems and civic mindedness in place. When executed, it will greatly improve, enhance and empower the lives of all disabled persons in our society.
And what windows of opportunities such a world would open up for the disabled in finding jobs, and helping them become self reliant! We would no longer be considered burdens to society then.
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