Disabled left out in the cold


LOOKING back at 2018, without a doubt, the installation of a #NewMalaysia government was the most significant event. But sadly, the year has been one filled with disappointment for the disabled community, the largest minority group in Malaysia and around the world.

The letdowns began with Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh thinking she had the right to determine who could or could not use disabled toilets (“Transgenders can loo-k to disabled ones”, Nation, The Star, Aug 14; online at tinyurl.com/star-toilets).

By asking able-bodied LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) to use disabled-friendly restrooms, she was violating one of the basic and fundamental rights of people with disabilities.

When we vehemently protested this statement, the deputy minister offered no apology and chose to avoid us altogether.

It was also a crushing disappointment when the people who are supposed to look after disabled rights, Deputy Prime Minister and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and her deputy, Hannah Yeoh, didn’t clarify that only the disabled have the right to use disabled-friendly toilets.

In fact, since they took over their portfolio more than half a year ago, disabled activists – especially the senior members of the community – have not been asked about what would be best for the community.

I am personally disappointed with Yeoh whom I had the opportunity to work with briefly a few years ago when I was a councillor in MBPJ and she was the assembly­man for Subang Jaya, Selangor.

I would have thought after joining the the ministry, Yeoh would have seized the opportunity to consult with me and other activists, on disabled issues – especially considering the fact that I have been disabled for more than half a century.

Things didn’t go well either with the last budget announced in 2018 that sets the tone for 2019.

Not only were the disabled not consulted, as we had been every year in the past, but our requests via social media to @guanenglim for a RM500 monthly allowance for all OKU (orang kurang upaya) fell on deaf ears. We got nothing, not even a one-time payment which able-bodied civil servants and others got.

We didn’t get anything in the world of telecommunications, either. Currently, there are no special packages for disabled subscribers (or they have not been revised) to help them access the Internet, which remains a powerful tool for empowerment as well as a means of working from our homes even if we are bedridden.

Although these ideas have been expressed to @GobindSinghDeo (Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo), we have yet to hear any statement on this from him.

The only positive remarks and promises we have heard in relation to the OKU is from Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik who has vowed to remove all barriers for Malaysians with all types of disabilities in regular schools by 2020.

This is the most progressive statement made so far by any of the Pakatan Harapan ministers in the Cabinet.

And while we have no reason to doubt the good minister’s intentions, the proof in the end, as they say, will be in the pudding.

ANTHONY THANASAYAN

Disabled Activist

Petaling Jaya