This article is in conjunction with International Day of Persons With Disabilities that falls on Dec 3 every year.
KUALA LUMPUR: As the nation struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities (PwD) are also among those adversely affected by its consequences.
Apart from its impact on their livelihoods, constraints in accessing information, particularly for PwD who are visually- and hearing-impaired, has become a matter of concern more so now in this digital era.
Among the issues that often crop up is their right to keep themselves up-to-date with the latest information and developments, as well as access to education at the school and tertiary levels.
A large part of their grievances is not about the lack of information but, rather, the inadequacy of the mode of delivery as a result of which PwD with certain constraints are unable to access information.
Newly-appointed chairman of the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) Senator Ras Adiba Radzi, who represents the PwD community in the Dewan Negara, said many parties have overlooked this issue.
“A lot of information is not reaching them, not because the information is not there but due to the way it is being disseminated.
“ For example, hearing-impaired PwD are not able to follow news that is broadcast without sign language while visually-impaired PwD are not able to comprehend messages conveyed in the form of infographics or posters on television because most of them consist of diagrams with music in the background and there’s no one explaining the content,” she said.
The same goes for online learning which, she stressed, should be made accessible to PwD at all levels to ensure that they don’t drop out of the education process.
“When there are impediments that prevent messages and information from reaching the targeted groups (in this case PwD), it amounts to discrimination,” she told Bernama.
Ras Adiba, who is also the president of OKU Sentral, a non-governmental organisation that champions the rights of PwDs, however, acknowledged the efforts taken by local television stations to address the issue. Even Parliament has been using the services of a sign language interpreter since August.
“Maybe after this Bernama (TV) too (will use sign language interpreter)… we must try to give more support to the PwD community and in return they must also give their support to Bernama’s PwD-friendly news broadcast, shows and presentations,” she added.
Urging society to change their attitude towards the disabled community and refrain from viewing them as objects of sympathy, Ras Adiba said many of them holding professional posts have proven to be successful.
“The only difference is, perhaps, the way we move and speak due to the constraints we face. Nevertheless, it is an indisputable fact that we have the capacity and potential and hence, should be given equal opportunities,” she said.
Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organisation estimates, 15 percent of the population of a country comprises PwD. This would imply that Malaysia has a disabled population of 4.7 million although, to date, only 590,000 people are registered as PwD in this country.
“We’re cooperating with the Social Welfare Department and Department for the Development of Persons with Disabilities to get more PwD to register themselves so that they can receive the benefits given by the government over the long term, such as hospital, education, transport and other facilities,” she said.
Since taking her oath as a senator on May 20 this year, Ras Adiba has been championing for early intervention for PwD and employment opportunities – including the one percent PwD employees in public services policy – as well as for PwD to be involved in the enforcement of laws by local authorities pertaining to the disabled community and amendments to the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 to empower the rights of the disabled community.
“We are raising the issue of Uniform Building By-Laws because for us it is crucial for all new buildings to be disabled-friendly. This is because daily we have to struggle with infrastructure that is not disabled-friendly.
“We face ramps that are too steep, dedicated parking bays that are taken up by able-bodied drivers and toilets that are not disabled-friendly and have been turned into storerooms.
“These issues may seem trivial to some people but they can contribute to bigger problems if not addressed properly,” she added.
More realistic policies
Among other issues raised by Ras Adiba are increasing the allowance for PwD employees and PwD afflicted by rare diseases, as well as the mental health problems they and their caregivers and parents have been facing as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
“Fortunately, the allowance (for PwD employees) was increased from RM400 to RM450 under Budget 2021. I was hoping for a higher amount but then we also have to consider the needs of others,” she said, adding that she has also voiced out the need to look into the welfare of the nation’s Paralympic athletes.
Malaysian Foundation for the Blind chief executive officer and co-founder Silatul Rahim Dahman, meanwhile, said the difficulty faced by visually-impaired people like him in submitting their applications online for government aid made them feel marginalised at times.
“The government is providing various incentives but our disability, as well as the fact that many PwD are not technogically-savvy, is preventing many of us from gaining access to the aid,” he said.
Hoping the matter would be given due attention, he said the implementation machinery at the ministry- and agency-level should be more sensitive to the constraints faced by the disabled, especially when applying for the incentives or aid allocated to them.
Silatul Rahim also said that existing policies and incentives for PwD should be made more realistic so that they can be implemented and easily accessed by the disabled, instead of remaining theoretical.
He said policies for PwD should be enforced with full integrity but without ignoring certain discretionary matters that may have to be considered in accordance with the specific needs of the PwD.
“The welfare and development of PwD must be enhanced based on the rights of the disabled as enshrined in the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 and outlined under the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights For Persons With Disabilities.
“All policies and programmes developed for PwD must take into account principles outlined in these two important documents because they safeguard the rights and interests of PwD in every aspect of their life,” he said.
Stressing that the empowerment of PwD should take effect on the basis of human rights and not purely welfare, Silatul Rahim said issues such as lack of access to quality education, dignified jobs, comfortable living quarters, healthcare and safe environment are still troubling many PwD and, hence, deserve serious attention.
Dr Ahmad Shamsuri Muhamad, who is chairman of the Human Capital Development Committee of the Society for the Blind Malaysia, said in order to empower the disabled community, the focus should switch from attending to their welfare needs to safeguarding their rights.
Acknowledging that progress has been made in efforts to recognise the rights of PwD in this country, he however said the changes have been slow and that improvements have to be made in terms of penalties imposed on those who violate the rights of the disabled.
“The rights of PwD should not be seen on the basis of welfare but rather on their capacity as human beings who are entitled to inclusive and equal access to opportunities as their able-bodied peers,” he said.
Dr Ahmad Shamsuri, who is also a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Education, added that an inclusive approach is necessary to ensure that no segment of society is left out in terms of the incentives and facilities provided by the government. — Bernama