FOLLOWING the excellent performance by Malaysia’s para athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, the Youth and Sports Ministry has indicated that it is looking to further support persons with disabilities (PWD) or orang kurang upaya, OKU, in Malay.
Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu is reported to have said on Sept 6 that it is time to amend the Persons with Disabi-lities Act 2008 to bridge the gap; he also spoke about providing more facilities and access to PWDs, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This statement publicly accords long overdue recognition, by a Cabinet minister, of the need to amend the PWD Act. The minister correctly highlighted the need for disabled-friendly access to important services, including digital services, banking, food and retail services and welfare assistance. It is also heartwarming that the minister urged the Public Service Department to increase employment opportunities for PWD in the public sector to reach the 1% PWD employment policy for that sector.
In celebrating the success of our Paralympians, we urge the government to recognise and treat competitive athletes with disabilities exactly the same as their non-disabled peers training for and associated with the Olympics and other major international sports competitions. This includes improving the quality and quantity of support and access for athletes with disabilities to training programmes and facilities.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics taught Malaysians a bitter lesson: all officials assigned to accompany Paralympians must be screened and trained as carefully as the Paralympians so they can fulfil their responsibilities properly. Accompanying officials must be held accountable for how they discharge their duties. They should be accountable not just to the Para-lympians and the Youth and Sports minister but also to all Malaysians who stand firmly behind our Paralympians.
The investigation into the process that led to Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli’s Paralympic gold medal disqualification on Aug 31 must be conducted transparently, ethically and urgently. The rakyat have every right to the detailed findings of that investigation.
Regulations and SOPs must be developed and introduced for the conduct of officials accompanying para athletes to national and international events. We urge the Youth and Sports Ministry to ensure the full participation of Paralympians in the development of such regulations and SOP, as well as in training sports officials in how they can fulfil their responsibilities to properly support Malaysian para athletes. The regulations and SOP must include protection and provision for para athletes to report misconduct by any sports official, without fear of reprisal.
These regulations and SOP would help ensure that no one fails our para athletes or deprives the nation of a medal ever again. Furthermore, it is time for Malaysia to engage more former Paralympians as accompanying sports officials, including in a supervisory capacity.
As underscored by Ahmad Faisal in referring to WeThe15 (recognition of the rights of PWD as 15% of the global population, launched with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games), 15% of Malaysia’s population of 32 million are PWD. But 11 years after Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the PWD Act has not been harmonised with the convention.
The limited impact of the PWD Act in protecting PWD rights remains the neglected orphan of the Women, Family and Com-munity Development Ministry. We urge minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun to respond by immediately establishing a task force to initiate efforts to amend the PWD Act 2008 within her first 100 days.
HARAPAN OKU LAW REFORM GROUP