DECEMBER 3 is observed worldwide every year as International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.
It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
Even though the Malaysian government has affirmed its commitment to respect the vulnerable PWD group, there is still much groundwork to be covered by our country in ensuring that PWD are accorded their due rights.
Malaysia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on April 8,2008 and ratified it on July 19,2010. The provisions and spirit of CRPD were adopted into our country’s legal framework via the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 (Act 685), which was gazetted on Jan 24,2008.
Act 685 defines PWD to include “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society”.
For the purpose of registering PWD, the Department of Social Welfare recognises seven categories of disabilities:
(i) hearing disability;
(ii) visually disabled;
(iii) speech disability;
(iv) physical disability;
(v) learning disabilities;
(vi) mental disability; and
(vii) multiple disabilities.
Notwithstanding the guidelines in Act 685 with regards to the rights of PWD for special facilities in public areas as well as access to education, employment and information under Part IV, the spirit of “Promotion and Development of the Quality of Life and Wellbeing of Persons with Disabilities” in Malaysia remains tenuous.
The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (Macsa), a coalition of 56 non-governmental and civil society organisations advocating human rights issues in Malaysia for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, is concerned over the reports received from the Association of Blind Muslims Malaysia (Pertis), one of the organisations under Macsa.
Pertis had observed that since Act 685 was gazetted, no fewer than seven accidents in public areas involving blind people have been reported. All of these accidents were due to the failure by public facilities providers to adhere to the procedures and guidelines in Part IV of Act 685.
Macsa implores the Malaysian government through the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry as well as the Transport Ministry to scrutinise the concerns faced by PWD in public areas to ensure strict compliance with the provisions of the CRPD and Act 685.
Legal provisions to protect the PWD’s basic rights will remain toothless and ineffective without the government’s intervention in demanding that all providers of public facilities honour the shared responsibilities towards our PWD.
Macsa also demands for urgent amendments to the Act for the purpose of inserting enforcement and penalty provisions that would enable any contravention under the Act to be legally dealt with. These demands are in line with the recommendations that Macsa submitted to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) through the processes of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva last year.
Macsa takes this opportunity to thank all activists who have earnestly fought for the rights of our PWD. Our special thanks go to the activists in Pertis. Their commitment, creativity and devotion to continue contributing towards the well-being and welfare of blind people remain an inspiration to all Macsa members.
LUKMAN SHERIFF ALIAS
Founder, Malaysian Lawyers’ Circle and Macsa chairperson
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR RAFIDAH HANIM MOKHTAR
President, International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education and Macsa co-chairperson