Has Celebrating Disability Days Brought Any Benefit To The Disabled Community? — OKU Rights Matter Project

Celebrating disability days is good for raising awareness, but only if reinforced by comprehensive efforts that yield meaningful change in the lives of persons with disabilities.

Every year, we celebrate a number of disability days, often with the involvement of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM), Ministry of Health (MOH), and at times, the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Recently, we observed World Autism Awareness Day (April 2). In March, we celebrated World Down Syndrome Day (March 21).

There are also International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3), World Cerebral Palsy Day (October 6), Invisible Disabilities Week (October 17 to 23), and many others.

During these events, statements will be made by the relevant ministries, invariably illustrated by photo-ops of the ministers with persons with disabilities and some infographics or images on the social media pages of KPWKM, MOH, and MOE.

These days and events are critical in focusing the nation’s attention on the lived experiences of persons with diverse disabilities, and they should continue.

At the same time, we need to ask, what impact have they made on the rights and support services of the disabled community? Have they galvanised KPWKM, MOH, MOE, and other government agencies to enlarge and improve national services for persons with disabilities and the disabled community?

For voters and taxpayers, independent and regular audits of ministries and other government entities are long overdue. Malaysians have a right to access the results of independent assessments of the scope and effectiveness of government services, performances, and annual or longer-term plans for persons with disabilities.

With their care partners, persons with disabilities account for more than 30 per cent of the population. With Malaysian society rapidly ageing and the existence of the ageing-disability intersectionality, we must acknowledge that this figure will further rise. Yet, the disabled community is one of the most poorly served in the nation.

Here are some critical questions that KPWKM, MOH, and MOE need to answer on plans that each has outlined for the disabled community.

What has happened to the National Autism Council whose formation the MOH announced in July 2022? Aid for autistic persons are limited, with most services provided outside of government agencies.

Autistic persons and other persons with disabilities face barriers throughout their lives, from inadequate access to timely diagnosis and support services to the absence of systemic, long-term efforts to reduce stigmatisation and discrimination, especially for OKU card holders, which discourages many from being formally registered as OKU.

Can the Public Services Commission (SPA) and the Chief Secretary explain why we have failed, after 35 years (since 1988), to meet a government policy target and the promise of 1 per cent civil service jobs reserved for disabled persons? The current rate is 0.3 per cent.

Most telling is that the majority of persons with disabilities who attempt to apply for a job via SPA do not even get called for interviews. Discriminatory practices against OKU who have the necessary qualifications extend beyond recruitment to job security and career advancement for the very few OKU in the civil service.

Why are such practices silently condoned and perpetuated? Why is there no leadership in ending the injustice of discrimination against qualified OKU in the civil service?

The KPWKM has a good Pelan Tindakan OKU 2016-2022. Could KPWKM inform the Malaysian people what it has achieved, as well as its objectives and targets?

After 2022, why is there no follow-up plan? Without a Pelan Tindakan OKU since January 2023, how does the KPWKM allocate resources for OKU?

The KPWKM minister recently announced that amendments to the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 will be tabled in Parliament in June 2023. Nine months later, we are still waiting for meaningful amendments to harmonise the Act with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that Malaysia ratified in 2010.

Of note is the 10th core strategy (under KPWKM’s Pelan Tindakan OKU 2016-2022) to “Implement laws in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. Could the KPWKM explain what it has done to include and reflect the CRPD in amendments to the Act?

The Family Health Development Division at the MOH has a detailed Health Care for Persons with Disabilities Plan of Action 2011-2020. It would be good to know what has been achieved.

Also, why has the plan for the disabled community been halted in 2020 without any follow-up? Is it customary that a plan or its follow-up takes years to be launched?

In the case of the development of the National Dementia Plan of Action, whose custodian is MOH, the process commenced in 2019, with civil society inputs in 2022 for the revival of the draft plan, and again in March 2024, with no indication as to when it will be launched.

The MOE has a meaningful Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB), which outlines that “75 per cent of students with special needs should be enrolled in inclusive programmes by 2025”.

The MOE recently announced that the MEB has “achieved success”. And yet, those of us who work with children with disabilities know how limited their inclusion within mainstream education still is.

It is time to take stock of the real achievements on inclusive education by listening to the realities of the disabled community.

Why are the reports of the work undertaken by the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (MBOKU) and its subcommittees not made available on the KPWKM website for easy access by OKU and the entire disabled community, including parents and other stakeholders concerned with OKU rights?

Celebrating disability days is good for raising awareness, but only if reinforced by comprehensive efforts that yield meaningful change in the lives of persons with disabilities at the household and community levels.

Nice speeches, plans, and ideas are of no value unless translated into reality.

The disabled community is still languishing. Children with disabilities are not fulfilling their potential. Adults with disabilities are struggling for equitable inclusion within mainstream society.

Malaysia is ill-prepared for disability with rapid ageing. This is a system-wide failure that calls for an urgent reality check and corrective actions.

The answers to the above questions are a telling measure of the state of societal wellbeing.

Dr Amar-Singh HSS, San Yuenwah, Anit Kaur Randhawa, and Ng Lai-Thin are from the OKU Rights Matter Project.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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