Time to take a serious look at the plight of the disabled

The observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. Filepic

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. According to the United Nations, there are more than one billion disabled persons, making them the largest minority group in the world.

When there is a lack of information and data on disability in any country – and the disabled are not present in decision-making at the national level – it becomes a major obstacle in development planning and implementation that is inclusive of disabled citizens, says the UN.

Here is a random checklist of some of the pressing issues which we in Malaysia need to look into:

> Why is there no GST waiver for the disabled? Sure, there are disabled persons who are well-to-do but they are a minority. The majority of handicapped Malaysians are struggling to cope with the financial strain and hardship.

They have no jobs because they have no education and lack skills. They never went to school because they had no means of transportation and schools were not wheelchair-friendly – shamefully, even to this day.

A little help from the powers-that-be (in the form of GST exemption through their disabled identification cards) will level the playing field for them a little. It’s not asking too much, especially when it can be easily done.

Besides, it would encourage the disabled who have not registered themselves, to do so. Wouldn’t this be a win-win situation for everyone?

> It was very reassuring to read in the news last week that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would continue to look into the blind community’s accessibility needs by upgrading the tactile pavings on walkways. Whilst this is good news for the blind, sadly it isn’t so for wheelchair-users. Many of the pavements built with tactile markings do not accommodate wheelchairs. The curb cuts are ridiculously steep or the pavements too narrow.

Frankly, DBKL could learn a thing or two from the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) which recently embarked on creating universal design pavements. These are spacious walkways with all the street furniture placed at the side and they do not pose any obstruction or danger to anyone.

MBPJ is using a type of concrete called “broom finish” which is excellent for those who use wheelchairs, prams or walking aids. It is smoother and safer than any of the concrete MBPJ or other councils have used.

I made a trip to try out the new facilities which are still under construction. It was super-friendly to my wheelchair’s front wheels called swivel casters. It is this part of the wheelchair which often encounters problems when you are outside. In an environment which is not wheelchair-friendly, casters can throw a user off his wheelchair when they hit an obstacle.

Any council which is serious about creating a disabled-friendly environment should include disabled people in their technical committee to get user-friendly feedback.

> Now that more disabled parking lots are springing up in towns and cities, who should be the ones to issue disabled stickers? The Welfare Department, road transport authorities or the local councils? If you pick the third choice, you are on the right track. This is what local councils around the world are doing.

When I was a councillor with MBPJ, we gave out special car park IDs. To get the ID which is renewable periodically, applicants need to provide a registered disability card from the Welfare Department or a government doctor’s letter confirming their disability.

In some overseas countries, persons who are temporarily disabled and recovering from an illness or accident are also provided with disabled parking IDs from the local councils. These need to be renewed fortnightly and are cancelled once the person is back on his feet.

Getting the local councils to issue disabled parking IDs is a must to stop car parks from being abused by the able-bodied.

As it is now, anyone can buy stickers with the wheelchair logo from bookshops. No identification is required.

The local councils should take a serious view of this and only recognise the disabled IDs which they provide to stop the unscrupulous from abusing parking lots for the disabled.

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