I guess it is fair to say that most of us look forward to having heroes in our lives – people whom we admire and look up to to motivate us. My heroes, however, are those like me: persons with disabilities.
Unlike make-believe comic book heroes like Batman, Superman or even The Daredevil, my superheroes are real-life men, women, children and even the elderly. These are the people who have to confront some of the toughest daily challenges because of their disabilities.
So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that about 50 persons, mostly with physical disabilities, had turned up in Parliament a fortnight ago.
They were there to make their voices heard – loud and clear – to the law-makers of the nation on how the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which was introduced on April 1 last year, had turned their lives into a living hell. And it was no April Fool’s joke.
They want the GST to be waived immediately for the disabled through their disabled identification cards.
Initially, as many as 100 people were supposed to turn up. However, the number dropped because of a variety of last-minute reasons. No wheelchair-friendly buses were available where most of them live. Quite a few cabs turned them down when they saw their wheelchairs and walking sticks. Some able-bodied helpers did not show turn up. Most had nobody to help them.
For others, their chronic conditions started acting up at the last minute, thus requiring medical attention. They ended up in the clinic or hospital, or just stayed home to recover.
The majority who turned up were disabled folk in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. Some came from as far as Johor, Negri Sembilan and Penang.
They arrived a day earlier and stayed the night in friends’ houses.
The disabled had to get up as early as 5am to prepare themselves to be at the press conference in Parliament House at 10.30am.
When they got there, those who came with their own transport said they were disappointed that they had no access to special parking, even though the police had spotted their wheelchairs and walking sticks.
They were made to park their vehicles about 300m away from the Parliament lobby area. No one came forward to help them get their wheelchairs out of the boot.
It was the few able-bodied volunteers of friends and relatives who tagged along, that ended up assisting them out of their cars. The disabled had to find a shady spot in the scorching sun to conduct their press interviews.
Only a few disabled persons were lucky enough to enter the lobby, thanks to several Members of Parliament who invited them in.
Once they started, the disabled – aged between 20 and 60 – poured their hearts out to members of the press, MPs and just about anyone who cared to listen to their plight.
They pointed out that it wasn’t their disabilities that were a problem but rather the lack of action and consideration from society and the Government towards their plight.
Most of them became paralysed as a result of road accidents. They had to give up their jobs because they could no longer get to work in their wheelchairs.
For those who overcame the problem of transport with the help of relatives and friends, they had to be carried up and down a flight of stairs in their workplace.
Their wheelchairs couldn’t fit into the toilets. Their colleagues eventually got tired of helping them. Their bosses refused to spend money for renovations. And this is only half the story.
There are many disabled people living in poor areas who are not even on the lists of local councils, the welfare department or even disabled NGOs. These are children, adults and the elderly who cannot get access to specialists in hospitals, and are not registered with the welfare department
The imposition of the GST has robbed the disabled of their dignity as they try their best to eke out a living.
A 30-something disabled person spoke of how he had to cut down meals for himself and his children to once a day. He could not afford to go to the nearby clinic for emergencies as he used to before the GST. Although treatment at government hospitals is free with the use of one’s disabled ID, he is often asked to buy medication from outside pharmacies because the government hospital does not have enough supply.
Fortunately for him, there is a clinic near his place where he can pay RM1 for treatment. But it is open only a few times a week and for a couple of hours.
The disabled say they want the GST waived because the playing field has become even more unfair for them.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim has said in Parliament that she will be meeting up with the disabled group to hear their plight,” says Independent Living and Training Centre president Francis Siva who helped organise the event.
We are expecting that to happen very soon.