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Thursday September 4, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday September 4, 2014 MYT 11:57:28 AM
by anthony thanasayan
Empowerment: Forum participants Izdihar Janna Adzly and her mother, Rafidah @ Rafizah Ahmad, vice-chairman of Malaysian Advocates for Cerebral Palsy.
Children with disabilities should be brought to important meetings and allowed to articulate their needs.
As Malaysians were busy preparing to commemorate the nation’s 57th year of independence, another important event was shaping up last week.
Some 50 individuals and representatives from non-governmental organisations around the country gathered together to form the first-ever informal group to champion the cause of children with disabilities.
The group comprised persons with various types of disabilities, caregivers, parents, teachers, paediatricians, and disability rights advocates. There were also lawyers, social workers, academicians, lawmakers, government and corporate representatives, and journalists.
Called the Malaysian Partnership on Children with Disabilities (MPcwd), the initiative was spearheaded by UNICEF Malaysia. Its goal is to allow children with disabilities to be heard in our society and to help promote their rights.
Amy Farkas, a disability specialist at UNICEF in New York, was the facilitator at the two-day forum which was held at a leading hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
“I grew up with friends who have disabilities. When I realised that not all persons with disabilities lived in an environment that supported them (inclusive environment), I decided to take up the challenge to bring about change in situations that did not include the needs and rights of people with disabilities,” said Farkas, when I interviewed her at the end of the forum.
She added that although this was her second visit to Malaysia, what she saw here was pretty much the same as elsewhere in the world.
“Children with disabilities have for so long been left out of society. NGOs for children’s causes frequently don’t take on disabled children’s issues in their struggle. Their usual excuse is, ‘We don’t have the capacity to work with disabled children’ or ‘There are other groups to take on the disability aspect’ when in fact, there are none, so children with disabilities are left out as a result.
“Then there are the persons with disability groups that do not consider or consciously include children with disabilities in their meetings, leaving a vital group’s voice out of their struggles.”
Farkas went on to emphasise that in order to start including children with disability issues in the agenda, it should start with a change in mindset about disability itself. The forum challenged participants who were mostly able-bodied, about their perceptions and incorrect understanding of disability.
“The huge inequalities between children without disabilities and those who have them should be narrowed down effectively. We should get rid of multiple layers of discrimination against the disabled, which includes stigma and prejudiced thinking.
“Disabled children should be given the same opportunities to study in a regular classroom. Their needs should be met by sign language interpreters and special education teachers.
“The first thing that governments need to do is to listen to the voices of children with disabilities. This means they would have to be brought to important meetings and allowed to articulate their needs. This is not only a human right but all disabled children have an opinion which policy-makers must listen to.
“The way forward is to always walk the talk, especially when it comes to hearing the voice of children with disabilities,” Farkas added.
All MPcwd advocacy efforts will be guided by international frameworks, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Millennium Development Goals, post-2015 Development Agenda, and the Asia-Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities (2013-2022), and national goals like Vision 2020 and the 11th Malaysia Plan.
The MPcwd is established under the umbrella of the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities, led by Unicef.
> For more details, visit Malaysian Partnership for Children with Disabilities.
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