Malaysia has a long way to go when it comes to being disabled-friendly, says Make It Right Movement chief executive officer Brian Lariche, 56, who manages and advises over 250 community programmes and social enterprises.
Lariche became mobility impaired five years ago.
“I’m diabetic and had a foot infection which resulted in two of my toes being amputated. I had to have multiple surgeries and a huge part of flesh had to be removed (from my foot) and it took more than a year to heal,” reveals Lariche.
As a result, he has difficulty walking and needs to use a stick for balance.
Lariche has encountered many challenges due to his disability.
While getting to work isn’t so much of a problem – he doesn’t drive but is able to use an ehailing service to get to work – he has encountered the occasional impatient ehailing driver when he takes a little longer to get out of the car.
Travelling by airplane, however, is a different story.
Lariche flies overseas frequently for work and he highlights the importance of airports having proper support for the disabled.
While the wheelchair support and helpful airport staff aren’t a problem, Lariche recalls the time when his Grab car was chased away from the OKU lane by an enforcement officer so fast that he lost his winter jacket when the driver drove off with it. The officer then demanded to see his OKU card which he’d already packed away since he wouldn’t need it overseas.
“This was the nearest place to get off at the departure lounge and necessary for someone who is mobility impaired. Because the driver got chased away so quickly, he drove off with my winter jacket and it was freezing at 8°C when I arrived in Amsterdam later,” laments Lariche.
“This happens when there is a lack of awareness on the needs of the disabled and also their right to have proper access to facilities,” says Lariche.
He says that it’s an issue with the general public at large too.
“The moment you’re in a wheelchair, people don’t really see you. Often, people are looking up or at their phones while walking and when they fall over me, they get angry,” he says.
Malaysians need to be aware of the needs and rights of the disabled.
“Persons with disabilities are often segregated instead of being included in society. But, it’s the right of every individual – including the disabled – to be integrated into society and not marginalised,” says Lariche.
“There are special schools for the disabled, and even specific areas set up for people with specific disabilities such as a village for the blind.
“But such special schools focus on the mentally challenged so for those who are physically disabled to go there, it limits their chance to grow and be part of society,” he says.
“People may think it is a ‘comfortable’ arrangement, but if the disabled aren’t integrated into society, those who don’t have any disabilities aren’t aware of how to interact with them,” he adds.
Lariche says that society’s mentality needs to change to become more inclusive.
“The disabled are part of society and it’s an issue of inclusion. An able person today might get into an accident tomorrow and become blind, deaf or unable to walk,” he says.
“Currently, interactions with the disabled are based on ‘pity’ instead of their right to be included,” he adds.
“In special schools, teachers often have the mentality that they’re just showing kasihan (pity) to the disabled students and handing out ‘morsels of kindness’ to the disabled. But that’s unacceptable – they shouldn’t be sekolah khas teachers unless they understand and believe in the rights of a disabled person,” says Lariche.
Persons with disabilities are no less of a person than everyone else. They have the same rights too, he says.
Start from young
Lariche stresses the importance of children learning about basic caregiving from young.
“In school, children should be taught about basic caregiving – how to help your grandparents, an older relative or someone who is disabled. Before anything else, they need to ‘learn to be human’ because it’s not just about having a high IQ, but also a high EQ. Emotional intelligence is what will make you more successful in life,” he says.
“Why should a person in a wheelchair not be allowed to go to a normal school, why do they have to go to a special school? He or she is no less than you and me.
“When you’re placed together with the slow learners, you get habilitated to be slow when you’re not really mentally slow.
“You have a physical disability but there’s nothing wrong with your brain,” says Lariche.
When the disabled aren’t integrated into society from a young age, children who aren’t disabled don’t learn to be patient, understanding or caring.
"Integration will make children in school more patient, more considerate, know how to empathise and they will learn how to be accommodating instead of selfish with a “me first” attitude, he says.
Lariche feels that people are generally uncomfortable with those who have disabilities, especially those whose disabilities are more obvious, such as a person who has cerebral palsy, is blind, or can’t walk and needs to use a wheelchair.
For someone who has cerebral palsy, it’s especially difficult, he says, adding that there are personnel in MIRM with this condition.
“When people look at them, they think that just because their body is different, then there’s something wrong with their mind. But that’s not true at all,” he says, adding that it’s due to a lack of awareness.
As a result, people with disabilities might be discriminated, and often subject to menial or low-paying jobs, or limited in the courses they can study.
“There is a law that says every building should be disabled- friendly. But it’s not enforced. Most buildings in Malaysia aren’t disabled-friendly. When I came out of the hospital after my operation, I would get stuck at the lift (at various buildings) because there is no ramp to push and pull me. So it made it very difficult for people who were helping me too,” says Lariche.
Life should be fun for everyone, including disabled people.
“At least once a week, we try to go out together as co-workers for meals or activities such as watching movies,” says Lariche.
“Once in a while, we also go outstation for training and when we do so, we try to make it fun. When we went to Penang, we went to the food stalls and tried our favourite food,” says Lariche.
Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies, even those who aren’t disabled, so we need to learn to be more accepting and inclusive, he says.
MIRM has two groups taking the immersion programmes for individuals who have Austism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome or other learning disabilities.
“Many of them have never spoken to anyone before and had no friends. But now, they’ve got a WhatsApp chat group where they communicate with one another.”
At MIRM, the courses for the disabled are free of charge, because the cost is borne by the company or from grants. Courses for corporates are charged so that they can sustain their operations.
A lot of parents aren’t brave enough to let their children fulfill their maximum potential. There may be unconventional individuals with unusual dreams.
“It’s a right, not a privilege for the disabled to be included in society. It’s the society’s duty to be inclusive, and non-discriminatory in integrating disabled persons,” he says.
Having said that, the disabled person also has the responsibility to work hard and not be lazy, and must be open towards people helping him or her be integrated into society.
Lariche has several suggestions on how society can become more disabled-friendly.
“Associations for the disabled need to communicate with one another and learn to work together for the good of the disabled.
Young people need to be involved because they’re aware of the latest apps to use for communicating.
“Organisations need to move away from teaching the disabled routine tasks to fill up time such as how to be a receptionist, to teaching them useful skills that can help them live sustainably.
“Universities and colleges, especially public ones, must be disabled-friendly,” he says.
In the United States, there are institutions of higher learning for the deaf such as Gallaudet University in Washington DC.
“Currently, the Education Ministry is looking at how Brickfields Asia College can implement the first disabled-friendly college system in Malaysia. It’s hoped that national/public universities will do the same,” he says.
MRT/LRT/KTM services and stations should also be audited by associations for the disabled, such as the associations for the blind, in order to make them more blind-friendly, he says.
“It’s not about pity, because that’s not going to feed a disabled person.
“When his or her parents are gone, who is going to take care of them? (That’s why) you teach them to be independent,” he concludes.