Focus on reforms, not terms

WE as members of the orang kurang upaya (OKU) or disabled community, along with advocates, activists, care partners and allies, are profoundly disappointed by remarks made by Senator Isaiah Jacob published in a news portal on April 22.

Our collective voice reflects a wide spectrum of experiences within the disabled community, encompassing various sectors such as law, human rights, media, education and healthcare.

This letter articulates our collective opposition to the issues and views expressed by Isaiah in his formal capacity as a Dewan Negara senator mandated to represent the community.

As members of the disabled community, we maintain that terms such as “disabled”, “persons with disabilities” or OKU are widely accepted and agreed upon within our community.

Despite efforts to engage Isaiah on the matter, our concerns have not been adequately addressed.

This includes a meeting on June 26 last year, when a letter advocating for respectful, appropriate disability language was presented, with over 100 signatories from more than 70 organisations.

Isaiah’s continued endorsement of the term “specially abled” disregards internatio- nally accepted terminology endorsed by the United Nations (UN) and enshrined in Malaysia’s Persons with Disabilities Act 2008.

The promotion of euphemistic language undermines the struggles and challenges faced by the disabled community, diverting attention from critical issues that demand urgent attention.

Advocating for a change in terminology from “disabled” to “specially abled” or “differently abled” as suggested by Isaiah may subject Malaysia to scrutiny from the international community and the UN.

Malaysia ratified the UN Convention of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 and any delay in addressing terminology issues could hinder progress in improving the situation of the disabled.

If Isaiah wishes to focus on language, a practical first step would be to eliminate terms like cacat or kecacatan from government documents and replace them with more respectful terms such as “disabled” or kurang upaya.

Currently, government documents still use the “Borang C (Cacat)”.

Isaiah should prioritise meaningful action with advocacy efforts focusing on substantive reforms, rather than terminology matters.

Disabled advocacy requires proactive measures to address systemic discrimination and denial of rights, rather than symbolic actions of less significance.

As members of the disabled community, we call for leadership that is empathetic, inclusive and decisive.

We urge Isaiah to engage meaningfully with our community and prioritise substantive actions to address our needs and challenges.

This includes efforts to strengthen laws and policies, enhance accessibility and infrastructure, promote employment and economic participation, improve healthcare access and well-being, and uphold rights and inclusion for all members of the disabled community.

We emphasise the importance of genuine engagement and collaboration between Isaiah and the disabled community to address our concerns and advance our rights and interests.

We call on him to listen to our voices, understand our experiences and take concrete actions to support the disabled community.

Datuk Dr Ras Adiba RadziPresident

Persatuan OKU Sentral

This letter was signed by 197 signatories

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