MORE than 50 people with disabilities and their caregivers and supporters attended a half-day workshop on disability rights last Saturday.
The event was put together by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and the Bar Council of Malaysia. The workshop was aimed at getting people with disabilities to be more aware of their constitutional rights in order to raise their quality of life.
“All of us, whether we are able or disabled, are handicapped in some way and the only way we can be empowered is through knowing what our constitutional rights are,” said MBPJ councillor Jeyaseelen Anthony, who is also a lawyer and organiser of the event.
The workshop was led by Syahredzan Johan, chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee of the Bar Council and his team.
They presented the participants who were made up of the physically disabled and the blind, with a scenario where the world would end by 2012.
In the new Earth, they were asked to come up with what they thought would be essential to help them and their specific needs.
When it was time to present their case after the discussions, each group was full of ideas on the plan of action to take to create a better world for the disabled.
At the workshop, two of the participants shared their perspective with the audience. Here is what they have to say:
Francis Siva, 52, is president of the Independent Living and Training Centre in Rawang, Selangor. Francis, who is paralysed from the neck down, has this to say: “One of the biggest problems faced by the disabled community is the negative attitude of society towards us. Prejudice abounds. Sadly, we are still seen as ‘charity’ and ‘welfare’ cases. We are still fighting for equal treatment.
“Our wheelchairs can’t go anywhere we want. The local councils ignore our rights by building inaccessible pavements. Buses can’t take us; taxis avoid us, buildings don’t want us. It’s time for a change in mindset – and it must start with our politicians!”
Yam Tong Woo, 57, who became blind three years ago, voices his concern: “The blind are still treated as second-class citizens in the country. Banking, for instance, is an essential part of our life but when it comes to owning an ATM card, it is virtually out of bounds to us. The blind are not allowed to hold an ATM card; this is downright discrimination. By contrast, the blind in the United States and Australia are using talking automated teller machines which allow them to manage their banking transactions through special headphones.
“Due to the lack of tactile guiding blocks, talking lifts, audible traffic lights, Braille notices and others, the blind cannot operate independently in common places like banks, post offices, and transportation hubs.
“Even the Web is out of reach to the blind. In the United States, for example, it is compulsory for all websites to be made fully accessible to the blind. In Malaysia, many of the websites belonging to government and state agencies, some banks and commercial sites are not fully accessible to the blind. It is our right to have equal access to technology and communications.
“Recently I was at the airport to board flight. I was pleased when I heard an announcement asking the elderly, persons with special needs, and families with small children, to board first.
“My happiness was short-lived when other passengers scrambled to get to their seats the moment boarding began. I was disappointed that the airline staff did nothing to stop the crowd. An old man in a wheelchair was made to queue with the rest of the passengers when boarding the aeroplane.
“The new world that I would like to create will have all these support systems and civic-mindedness in place. When executed, it will greatly empower the disabled in our society. It will open up new windows of opportunity for the disabled and enable them to find jobs and become self-reliant. We would not be considered a burden to society then.”