A call to break barriers and open doors


THE United Nations General Assembly proclaimed Dec 3 as the International Day of Disabled Persons through Resolution 47/3 on Oct 14, 1992. This was to continue with the agenda of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons from 1983 to 1992, which had been a period of awareness-raising and action oriented measures towards the equalisation of opportunities for affected parties.

The official title of the day was changed to International Day of Persons with Disabilities by the General Assembly through Resolution 62/127 in December 2007. From the perspective of the Social Model of Disability which I subscribe to, disabled persons and persons with disabilities have different meanings. However, for the sake of expediency in this article, we shall use both to mean the same.

The United Nations encourages the observance of this day by holding activities that promote participation of disabled persons in mainstream society through the implementation of concrete actions on the basis of equality.

As with past years, there is a specific theme to encourage stakeholders to observe this day meaningfully. It also reflects the effort of the United Nations General Assembly in fostering awareness and action towards a disability-inclusive society.

The theme for this year is ‘Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all’. This is similar to the theme last year, which was ‘Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all’. In many ways, both themes echo the prevalent issues that are still dogging disabled persons and preventing them from achieving a reasonable quality of life.

The main stumbling blocks to inclusion and participation in this context are attitudinal and environmental barriers. Prejudice and stereotyping often lead to wider negative implications that include segregation, exclusion and discrimination. Environmental barriers are the subsequent results of these attitudes which further marginalise disabled persons in all areas of their lives. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities provides opportunities to raise awareness of disability and promote accessibility through the removal of barriers, and to realise the full and equal participation of disabled persons in society. All stakeholders including government, civil society and disabled persons are encouraged to come together to focus on issues related to inclusion in development as beneficiaries and agents on this day.

Among the events suggested are forums, public discussions and campaigns to further integrate disabled persons and their families into society and in development plans. Most importantly, practical and concrete actions should be implemented for disabled persons to realise meaningful and equal participation.

I remember commemorating this day many years ago by participating in a protest against the inaccessible public transport system. Members from 16 non-governmental organisations gathered near Kuala Lumpur Sentral, Malaysia’s largest transit hub, to voice our dissatisfaction at being left out in the planning and implementing stages in the purchase of 1,000 buses by a government-owned bus operator.

Since that day, I have always looked back during this noteworthy day every year to see how much we have achieved for that particular year. I am disappointed to say that even with consultation with disabled persons as stakeholders in various infrastructure projects, progress has been slow. There was simply no political will to make the situation better. For this year, I hope that things will be different. Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim is the new minister helming the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. I anticipate that she will effect changes to enable and empower disabled persons, which is part of the responsibility of her ministry.

At the same time, Bathmavathi Krishnan is the newly-minted representative and the voice of disabled persons in the Upper House. There was dissatisfaction with regards to her appointment as a Senator under the disability ticket as there was no consultation with leaders in the disability movement. Nevertheless, with all eyes on her, especially from her peers, Bathmavathi is pressed to deliver and realise the aspirations of the people she represents.

The government on its part must be well reminded of the oft-quoted slogan of “Nothing about us without us”. Every issue that affects disabled persons should be done in full consultation with disabled persons as we know our needs best.

The national-level celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2013 will be held at the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Arts and Cultural Centre in Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Selangor. The venue will take on air of carnival with a host of activities, competitions and exhibitions.

Assistant director of the OKU Development Department Nurulhuda Zainal said: “We are expecting about 2,000 guests and visitors to this celebration which will be officiated at by Datuk Rohani.

“Several awards are slated to be given out at the same time. Disabled students who have excelled in various public examinations will receive awards together with employers who implement inclusive policies in their organisations and entities providing accessible facilities.”

This day is also a good time for the minister and the government to appraise the ongoing efforts in uplifting the life of disabled persons in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. A lot more can be done in this aspect and in the spirit of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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