A Malaysian Enabling Village is a good idea

THERE are two things I ask myself when I see what looks like a good initiative, one worth featuring on In Your Face. Is it practical, and do we need it here in Malaysia?

I certainly asked myself those questions when I read the news last December that Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had launched an Enabling Village in Singapore - a community space aimed at integrating people with disabilities in society.

On paper, it's a fantastic space, a fantastic concept. The Straits Times highlighted that in their write-up of the Enabling Village at its launch.

The 30,000 sq m site, located near the Redhill MRT station, offers the only gym and FairPrice supermarket in Lengkok Bahru. They have universal design features so they can be used by people with and without disabilities. For instance, the supermarket has lower checkout counters for wheelchair users, and magnifying glasses so labels are easily read.

Additionally, the Village also has food outlets run by companies which hire people with disabilities and an art gallery where people can buy artworks and merchandise designed by people with autism.

To help people with disabilities improve their job prospects, the Enabling Village also has an information and career centre, and training facilities like a mock hotel room to learn housekeeping. A range of training courses is also offered.

The village cost SGD$25mil (RM76.4mil) to build and was developed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable, a government established agency which helps people with disabilities.

So, is an initiative like this practical, and do we need it here? If

you were to ask me, I would say that yes it can be practical and that yes, we do need a Enabling Village right here in Malaysia. The statistics alone suggest that there would be a market for it.

Taking Unicef's 2012 statistics as an example, there were 445,006 people with disabilities registered in Malaysia as of 2012, and in the intervening four years - the number would certainly have gone up as our population grew.

But don't take my word for it. I spoke to Malaysian Disabled Development Society president Mohd Faisal Che Yusof to get his take on the idea.

"It is a practical suggestion - but the relevant authorities must be committed to this. If the social consciousness is there in the area and the relevant local authorities put in the effort - such an initiative can be practical," he said.

Mohd Faisal stressed that municipal authorities have a key role to play in setting up Enabling Villages here in Malaysia and praised the work of the Petaling Jaya City Council for their commitment in making Petaling Jaya a more accessible city and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall for their work in Brickfields.

He added that social consciousness was a key factor as to why Brickfields was an area that is friendly to people with disabilities.

"Of course, there are a lot of obstacles to be navigated in the area, but the blind have no problems when moving around the area in spite of the traffic congestion because people are aware," said Mohd Faisal.

He also spoke of the National Council for the Disabled, saying that they could make use of their powers under the People With Disabilities Act 2008 to push for such an Enabling Village to be set up right here in Malaysia.

And Mohd Faisal drove the point home, urging the National Council to use their powers to be an effective pressure group.

"A number of local authorities are trying to set up a disabled-friendly area, but some are just putting up ramps in a few areas and declaring the area to be disabled friendly. This initiative can be taken up here to create a truly disabled-friendly area," he added.

And I would agree with him about this.

The setting up of an Enabling Village here would give Malaysians with disabilities a place to call their own, a place where they could congregate and integrate with society as a whole. It would give them a one-stop-centre with all the facilities they need.

We have the numbers to make it a profitable venture, both as a place of work and a community centre. I believe we have people with the necessary skills to make it work.

Malaysia definitely has a need and a use for its own Enabling Villages.

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