Abling the disabled in Selangor

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CONGRATULATIONS are in order to our brand new Selangor Menteri Besar, Mohamed Azmin Ali, who officially starts work today with his new team.

All eyes will be eagerly watching them over the next weeks and months to see what positive changes they will bring to the people of Selangor.

No one more hawk-eyed, in particular, than people with disabilities who have largely been forced to live on the fringes of our society since our country’s independence.

Pakatan Rakyat scored a major keystroke for the cause of disabled persons’ rights when it took over Selangor from Barisan Nasional in 2008.

This happened when it included several persons with disabilities as local councillors in the municipalities.

This work of genius not only significantly launched them ahead of everything that Barisan Nasional (BN) had been trying hard to do for the handicapped in the country, but it also, for the first time, put Malaysians with disabilities in the decision-making process of what goes on in the cities and local towns of Selangor.

The result was a dream come true. The disabled councillors were delighted to find themselves in a position of power, where they could directly give advice and even make decisions on matters which involved their lives.

This slowly and effectively broke the mould of society’s impression that disabled people are objects of charity instead of seeing them for who they truly are: residents with equal rights as non-disabled citizens.

With disabled people in the councils, pavements began to be built correctly. Kerb cuts for wheelchair users became easier and safer to get up on.

Once rarely seen in public in Petaling Jaya, for instance, yellow lines called “tactile markers” to help the blind get around independently began popping up in more places in the city.

Suddenly everyone started getting the real picture: It wasn’t the personal disability of an individual which was preventing him or her from achieving a productive life, but the lack of disabled-friendly facilities.

But the bad news is all the good work started by the Selangor government since its inception is threatening to disappear.

The way out of this situation is to set up disabled committees in all 12 local councils in Selangor. This will help ensure that disabled rights and welfare are in the framework of local council building.

Here are some suggestions on how the new MB and his team can get such a thing off the ground: Choose disabled persons wisely. Make sure the ones you pick are able to contribute. The ones picked must be serious, dedicated and knowledgeable. This may require some orientation and exposure of how councils operate in order to give each disabled person an idea of what is expected of them.

Hold meetings once a month: There is so much to catch up on and monthly meetings will help to get things going.

Have a wide and varied representation: Don’t only think of those in wheelchairs. It’s vital to get others like the blind, the deaf, people with learning disabilities, little people and even the elderly with physical problems. Don’t forget parents of disabled persons, too. They often have great ideas but don’t have the opportunity to voice them. Include children with disabilities. Their voice is also important.

Invite active NGOs: Think of support groups for people with stroke, Parkinson’s and even epilepsy, not just people with physical disabilities or those in wheelchairs. People with walking disabilities have a lot to contribute, especially in the way pavements are designed. Having said that, don’t forget individuals with disabilities as well. Because many of them may have been locked away in their homes as the local councils had forgotten about their needs, they may present the best ideas.

Finally, provide or pay for their transport: This is the least councils can do for their invaluable input. — The Malaysian Insider

This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider and The Edge Financial Daily.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 29, 2014.