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Social Welfare Department should take initiative with the disabled

  • More must be done to remove the stigma of disability to give children with disabilities the opportunities they deserve. Photos courtesy: UNICEF

By Mariam Mokhtar

The disabled or orang kurang upaya (OKU) already face an inordinate amount of discrimination, and bullying, but to heap blame on the parents of OKU children is both unfair and unnecessary.

On 22 September, the OKU activist, Ruziah Ghazali, who is also a member of the National Council for the Disabled, censured parents for their reluctance to register their disabled children with the Social Welfare Department.

She claimed that the parents were embarrassed by their disabled children and so were unable to access the help and assistance provided by the Social Services Department.

Ruziah is being disingenuous about the motives of the parents, as there could be many reasons for their hesitation to seek help for their OKU children.

The parents may be unaware of the resources which are available for the OKU. Information is very difficult to obtain in Malaysia, and many parents may not know where to seek help. Some may not be connected to the net.

Some people claim that in other areas of the social welfare services, the process of seeking help is cumbersome. Forms have to be completed in triplicate, and as some people are illiterate, they simply give up.

Some civil servants are rude and arrogant to members of the rakyat who are poor or disabled. Sadly, the ampu-bodek culture is strong in our society and people grovel to Datuks or those who are well connected, but ignore the rest of society.

Parents of OKU may be poor and taking leave from work, to travel to the department to register, will incur a significant loss of income.

Sometimes, when an OKU arrives at the Department, he may find that the place does not have adequate facilities like a ramp, lift or disabled toilets to cater for his needs. These are all important considerations and Ruziah must realize that not everyone is as mobile, or as well organized as she.

Ruziah also urged other states to do more to help the OKU and not rely solely on the Federal Government to assist them. She was full of praise for Selangor and Kelantan for their ongoing work, such as the Disabled People Action Councils, which raise awareness for the OKU.

She said that of the 4.8 million OKUs in Malaysia, only 549,554 were registered. An OKU card entitles the holder to a RM400 allowance, if his salary is below RM1,200 per month, a free passport, free road tax, and a further RM150 allowance if he is bed-ridden.

As Ruziah is probably aware, the Malaysian rakyat treats the disabled with a curious combination of disrespect or as a morbid object of curiosity. The nation has a long way to go, before the rakyat accepts the disabled as useful contributors to society.

At one time, the disabled were locked away in a backroom, and kept out of sight but this is the 21st Century, when technological and medical advancements have given the OKU many opportunities. Attitudes of the community have changed and the OKU can lead independent and fruitful lives.

In the west, the disabled are taught and encouraged to live independently, with self-respect and dignity. Over here, people are more curious than helpful, with scores of nosey voyeurs, whenever the disabled dare venture out to complete everyday chores or visits.

We still have much to learn from the West when it comes to empowering the disabled community.

Firstly. We must increase the general public's awareness of the plight of the disabled.

Job opportunities are still not being made available to the disabled, in either the public or private sectors, buildings do not incorporate features to help the disabled, transport facilities for the disabled are scarce.

Some taxis refuse to take wheelchair users. Some hotels do not have facilities for the disabled.

Politicians only pay lip service to helping the disabled. Some MPs have made unflattering remarks about the disabled rather than treat them with the dignity and the respect that they deserve. Some politicians ridiculed the late Karpal Singh, a wheelchair user. What does that say about the mentality of these MPs?

It is time we made a serious effort to promote the interests and well-being of the disabled.

Secondly. Politicians should legislate aggressively to help empower the disabled, to include them in the mainstream of society. Individuals, companies and organizations could also involve themselves in the development of means to counteract the negative perception of society towards the disabled.

Our children should be taught that the disabled have the right to live, work and be educated alongside them.

Instead of blaming parents, Ruziah could demand that the government does more to empower the OKU.

Sources:

1. MalaysiaKini: Disabled children not registered with Social Welfare Dept because parents embarrassed
2. The Star: Disability is much closer to all of us than we think
3. Today Online: When Malaysian MPs’ remarks in Parliament shocked Malaysians
4. Star2.com: Study shows that Malaysians don’t understand disability

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)

 

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