Malaysia needs to do more for people with disabilities, advocates say

Lax enforcement of a 2008 law enshrining rights for people with disabilities is preventing them from living independently or being welcomed fully into society.

By Annie Ling for Khabar Southeast Asia

February 27, 2013
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Four years after it adopted a law enshrining the rights of people with disabilities, disabled Malaysians and nonprofit groups supporting their efforts to live independently say the government can do much more to enforce the law and to protect them against discrimination.

  • Disabled citizens arrive at a polling station in the northeastern state of Terengganu to cast their votes on January 17th, 2009. Malaysia is improving its efforts to provide access and services for disabled people, government officials say. [Saeed Khan/AFP].

    Disabled citizens arrive at a polling station in the northeastern state of Terengganu to cast their votes on January 17th, 2009. Malaysia is improving its efforts to provide access and services for disabled people, government officials say. [Saeed Khan/AFP].

"Despite the establishment of the Persons with Disabilities Act in 2008, the law is still not fully enforced," Francis Siva, president of the Independent Learning and Training Centre (ILTC), told Khabar Southeast Asia. The ILTC is a nonprofit organisation in Rawang, Selangor that supports people with disabilities and helps them lead independent lives.

"Basic facilities for the disabled in buildings and other amenities are still lacking. More has to be done to raise awareness of the rights of the disabled community and the problems that they face in their daily lives."

Government response

In response to those concerns, an official from the Department of Health in Selangor, Noor Hassan, said government efforts are improving.

"We are improving in providing access for people in need. We are also providing education to children in need. For example, how can they get access to schools and have job opportunities? In fact, if you look specifically at the Department of Health or Department of Education website, it will have more details," he told Khabar.

"The law is to protect people in need," he added.

The Persons with Disabilities Act of 2008 states that disabled people should be treated equally with access to public services and facilities. Further, the law noted that the government and pertinent providers should make necessary improvements in ensuring availability to services for the disabled.

Transportation challenges

Derrick Cheah is a disabled employee at the Eden Handicap Service Centre Berhad (EDEN), a nonprofit that trains disabled people to become self-sufficient. In his experience, public buses aren't properly equipped to allow people in wheelchairs, for example, to get on and off easily.

"I seldom use public transportation because buses are not equipped with the necessary facilities for the disabled," said Derrick, who relies on transportation provided by EDEN. "There are also no ramps provided for the disabled at bus stops."

Last year EDEN launched the "Handy-Cab Transport Service" for wheelchair users, especially those who need treatment at a hospital. The service, using vehicles purchased from Japan, is still relatively limited in Penang.

Taxi driver Tan Thiam Cheng agreed that more could be done to help people with disabilities move about. A specific type of cab could be designed, he said, to make it easier for disabled people to travel by taxi.

In his 15 years as a cabbie, several of his fares were passengers in wheelchairs.

"These passengers had a very difficult time trying to get in and out of their wheelchairs and into my taxi," he told Khabar. "I got out of the car to help them."

Fighting discrimination

In the past, disabled people were often seen as a "burden" by their families and Malaysian society. As a result, the disabled would often limit their daily outdoor activities, advocates said.

That stigma is starting to subside in cities, according to Derrick, the disabled employee. Due to the increasing availability of resources for the disabled, many disabled Malaysians are able to be more independent.

"This mentality has changed in recent years," he told Khabar.

But Francis Siva of the ILTC believes many disabled Malaysians confine themselves to their homes or miss out on educational opportunities because of ongoing discrimination and insufficient implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act.

"This has to change, and with a more pro-active role from the government and fellow Malaysians, the disabled people can and will live a better life and contribute actively to society," he said.

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