Not without us: OKU activists press Harapan for greater inclusivity

In conjunction with the International Day of Disabled Persons – observed around the world on Dec 3 to raise awareness on the rights of people with disabilities – activists say Putrajaya needs to be more aggressive in engaging disabled people and other stakeholders.

Damai Disabled Persons Association Malaysia president V Murugeswaran said the new government is still very “naive” when it comes to dealing with issues concerning people with disabilities, and as such, it needs to engage with the community more to understand them better.

“Nothing about us without us. We have to be there. If you do not include us, you are never going to solve our problems.

“When you do things based on your assumptions, you think it is good, but every time we use it, we find that it has failed,” Murugeswaran told Malaysiakini when contacted yesterday.

This sentiment was echoed by Alliance of Children with Cerebral Palsy (Gaps) president Rafizah Ahmad and disabled rights activist Anthony Thanasayan.

Rafizah, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy, said the government had previously implemented many policies for people with disabilities, but without consulting the stakeholders.

“So, it is just like self-gratifying (syok sendiri) policies.

“They (the government) look like they are doing something, but I just hope that they are including the real stakeholders in everything they decide,” she said.

For Thanasayan (photo), the new government has done a terrible job when it comes to the welfare of people with disabilities, and the first step it should take is to learn more about the group.

“The Harapan government needs to learn about the disabled, and the best way to learn about the disabled is to meet them, call them and talk to them.

“I suggest (Deputy Women, Family, Community Development Minister) Hannah Yeoh go and see firsthand how disabled people are living in their houses, instead of hearing from people,” he said.

Appoint disabled people to the council

Thanasayan also suggested that the government appoint disabled persons into the National Advisory and Consultative Council on the Disabled, instead of just doctors and professors.

“Choose the people on the ground and make them sit on the council,” he said.

Both Murugeswaran and Thanasayan were particularly unhappy with Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh’s suggestion that the transgender community uses toilets for disabled persons as a temporary measure.

“Who is she to say that? What a stupid thing to say, and when we protested, she never apologised.

“They might as well let all the able-bodied people use our carparks too,” Thanasayan said.

Murugeswaran said Fuziah’s remark exposed the government’s naivety when it comes to the needs of disabled people.

“She does not understand why the disabled toilets are built in such a way, and all these things which we have been championing for many years in order for us to make things right,” he said.

Murugeswaran was also irked by Damansara MP Tony Pua’s statement in October that the government was in talks with e-hailing company Grab to replace feeder buses in providing complementary transport services to commuters.

“We fought for so hard for buses that were disabled-friendly, we struggled for many years.

“The RapidKL buses you see today is the hard work of the grassroots of the disabled, it is the perfect bus (for us).

“You come in, in just two to three months, and you want to take it away, that is going to affect a lot of people with disabilities,” he said.

Pua’s statement was later shot down by Transport Minister Anthony Loke, who said that the proposal was merely Pua’s own, and that the ministry had no plans to scrap feeder bus services.

Murugeswaran (photo, second from left) also praised the Transport Ministry for improved accessibility on public transportation in the Klang Valley, but called for these services to be extended to other parts of the country.

“(For example) Perak, Johor, Kelantan, Pahang, all these places do not have an accessible transportation system for the disabled.

“Disabled people in rural areas still suffer,” he lamented.

Empowerment, equality and inclusivity

The themes for the International Day of Disabled Persons this year are empowerment, equality and inclusivity of the disabled.

All three activists believe the country is still sorely lacking on all three fronts.

Rafizah pointed out that education is an important part of empowerment and inclusivity, but children with disabilities still have a hard time getting into schools.

For example, she said, children with cerebral palsy are usually turned away due to their physical disabilities – such as the inability to write due to lack of hand mobility, or inability to read aloud due to being non-verbal.

“If they are not in schools, it does not matter if you provide a quota of employment (for disabled persons) because they are not qualified to work.

“It defeats the purpose,” she said.

Thanasayan also took issue with the Budget 2019 tabled by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng last month, saying it included no training programmes for people with disabilities to help them in the job market.

“We do not want special treatment and as such, we want to be equal with the rest of the able-bodied society.

“But because you have excluded us, you need to do special things to help us catch up,” he said.

Not charity

Murugeswaran said one of the biggest issues people with disabilities face is with local government, town planning and infrastructure.

“We are struggling to make sure we can live independently,” he said, highlighting the need for more councillors in local government to deal with the needs of people with disabilities and accessibility issues.

Rafizah also said that Malaysia needs to move away from the charity model when it comes to the needs of people with disabilities, and move towards a social model.

“If we stick to charity and sympathy, we will not empower disabled people.

“The social model means you are breaking down the barriers, whether physical barriers or attitudinal barriers.

“It is not their disabilities disabling them, it is the environment and the lack of facilities disabling them,” she said.

Thanasayan concurred with Rafizah, saying that members of the public should not look at people with disabilities with sympathy.

“Do not look at us like medical things or charity cases. We are people.”