06/10/2021
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Amend relevant legislation now to protect the disabled

By Ang Lai Soon

Many charities and voluntary organizations across the world have been suffering in this unprecedented crafty pandemic. Almost the entire world is paralyzed by the invisible enemy.

Fortunately for the Sarawak Cheshire Home, our supporters and donors have continued to give their support, for which on behalf of the Home, I would like to record our sincere thanks.

With the help of a generous public and civic-minded organizations and others and a good management of funds over the years, our financial position is fundamentally sound.

I am particularly satisfied and indeed very proud of our small achievement.

But for the future, I am cautiously optimistic; dark clouds are everywhere.

In times of economic hardship, charities, NGOs and practically all have to redouble their efforts to operate as economically as possible.

I must caution the Sarawak Cheshire Home that we must not take things for granted that the lifestyle at this Home will forever be what we see today, just because we still have good support.

But take note that existing supporters may not be able to continue to do this some day if the almost crippled economy has let them down.

When donations do fall, running costs can create a rapidly mounting unsustainable debt very quickly.

Without the cushioning effect of adequate reserves, charities and NGOs can very quickly lose their ability to provide a reasonable level of service to those they serve, and incur debts that will be difficult, if not impossible, to repay.

Conservative management will build up healthy reserves to meet any reasonable contingency so that the level of service provided will be maintained through fluctuations in the economy.

This has been, and still is the policy of Sarawak Cheshire Home since its inception.

In this regard, I wish to express my sincere thanks to my executive committee and the staff for their understanding and cooperation in implementing this policy I advocated, i.e. stringent management of funds, including our reserves.

I must touch again on legislation affecting persons with disabilities. I am making the appeal to the Federal Government to seriously consider amending Article 8(2) (on Equality and equality before the law) of the Federal Constitution, which does not expressly mention the disabled or prohibit discrimination based on the disability of a person.

I believe that since I last spoke in 2013, there has not been any change to this particular Act.

As a matter of academic interest, the ladies particularly might be happy to hear that Article 8(2) was amended several years ago to prohibit discrimination based on gender.

So technically there should be no discrimination against women, but it is a shame that there is still a lot of discrimination against women today, from holding public offices in an advanced country to driving a car in a country which still has a feudal system of government.

I now refer to Persons with Disabilities Act 2008.

I strongly feel that it is time that Parliament make express provisions to enforce the rights of the disabled, e.g. on access to employment, education, access to buildings and public facilities, services for disabled, etc., and provide remedies or penalties for breach of provisions in the Act.

As Malaysia has been hoping to enjoy the status of a developed country, it is therefore time for a National Disability Rights Tribunal to be set up by the government to investigate any breach of the Act and impose or recommend penalties or solutions for non-compliance which seems to be happening every day.

Human nature being what it is, there is this tendency to breach the rule and break the law for material gains or power. Some in desperation will go for the smallest short term gain.

In some highly organized and disciplined countries, it appears that this unlawful criminal act is brought down to the minimum.

It is impossible to have everybody being law-abiding in any country at any time as long as there is a race called human being. We must accept that.

I have said this before, and I am saying it now, that I would like to make an appeal to the government to sign the Optional Protocol to UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (2006).

The government did sign and rectify the main Convention (CRPD) but has not yet signed the Optional Protocol (important so that there is international monitoring procedure on the implementation of provisions of the main Convention on rights of disabled in Malaysia and by the government, etc).

This should be done without any further delay.

I have said it often, and I am repeating it here that the term disabled is not necessarily referred to people born with some forms of disability like without an arm or with no ears or with one eye blind at birth.

Take note that a young or elderly person through an accident or a stroke is a disabled person, or just simply sickly and old age. Of course, there are people in their 90’s or centenarians who can still drive, ride a bicycle or running a marathon.

A human being is like a vehicle. Some vehicles after a few years become boneshakers while others still look as new after 50 years.

I hope there is one area which the government can take the lead, e.g. to implement Building By-Laws and provide facilities for the disabled in government and public buildings.

Most of our old public buildings have not been modified or renovated to provide facilities e.g. ramps, lifts, escalators or accessible public toilets for use of the disabled.

Ensuring access or entry by the disabled on wheelchairs to such buildings thus restricting their employment (even if there is a vacancy suitable for the disabled) is important, so that persons with disabilities can use and enjoy all the facilities and participate in activities in government and public buildings like normal people.

Almost all disabled persons who are using wheelchairs are not able to use buses. This is not acceptable, as many people do not own a car. Even if they do, most have a small car which has no room at all for the wheelchairs.

I therefore hope that all new buses to be put on the road are equipped with a ramp for the disabled.

I am confident that these bus companies would also like to make their contributions to help the disabled.

Many disabled persons have to go to clinics, hospitals, to work or to go shopping. It is not a luxury.

I suggest that local authorities throughout the country might consider providing vehicles for the purpose of ferrying disabled people to clinics and hospitals and to work places. Many advanced countries provide free transportation for disabled citizens.

I am stepping on ground where angels fear to tread.

Today, I am making a strong appeal to the government in particular, and to the public as well, on behalf of all the disabled people in the country to help all our disabled fellow citizens to lead a more meaningful and fruitful life.

I know that all the disabled in the country will support me in making this general appeal on their behalf.

Indeed, I am stepping on ground where angels fear to tread. That I will do for the disabled regardless of the consequences.

I have been fortunate over the years to have the generous support of the Fourth Estate, the public-spirited people in the mass media who have been disseminating my various messages in my charity, voluntary and environmental work, knowing that I am just doing it without any ulterior motive, without any hidden agenda, or indirectly making a living out of voluntary charity work.

In life I have not enriched myself with material things at all, but I am rich in terms of satisfaction, happiness and joy that I have not been born into this world simply to take up more space in this rather crowded world, and be a burden to everyone. I try to justify my own existence.

I would like my message to reach particularly those who are capable of making changes. The lawmakers, the media have been most helpful and for which I am most grateful.

We must amend the relevant legislation now to protect the disabled.

(Datuk Seri Ang Lai Soon is Sarawak social activist, philanthropist, founder of St John’s Ambulance Sarawak.)

Ang Lai Soon
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