Wednesday, July 6

Of generalisation and groundless vilifications

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Ng being escorted by police to the court house. — Bernama photo

THE news of a 19-year-old woman in Penang, who allegedly drove against traffic for 5KM, consequently causing a six-vehicle pileup that killed a motorist and injured several others, has been flooding my Facebook timeline since it happened on Tuesday. What is even more tragic about this accident is that the dead motorist Mohamad Fandi Rosli just got married in December and his wife is one month pregnant.

Police later revealed that the woman driver, Ng Pei Ven, had tested positive for using amphetamine at the Central Seberang Prai district police headquarters after the accident. Amphetamine is a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and obesity. When abused, it could lead to serious side effects such as aggression and paranoia. The Welfare Department also confirmed she was issued with a Kad OKU for learning disability.

Even before the police had completed their investigations, there were already unfounded assumptions by netizens that she would get away scot free, either by using her status as a disabled person or through bribing the authorities, while others were baying for blood and asked for her to be punished to the full extent of the law. Some of the comments were racist in nature as well.

There were some who questioned her status as a disabled person, how she could be a model, and why her car windscreen was not affixed with a ‘disabled sticker’. The tirade against her turned into ridiculing disabled people. The Road Transport Department was blamed for issuing her with a driving licence and the Welfare Department for giving her a Kad OKU when she does not appear to have any visible impairments.

I am not going to defend her actions. An innocent life was lost, people were injured, and vehicles were badly damaged. The legal system will deal with that. What I want to clarify here are the prejudices and misconceptions that have been swirling around putting all disabled people in a bad light.

The Welfare Department does not easily issue the Kad OKU. There are seven categories of impairments for the purpose of registration. Applicants must be medically certified by doctors following a set of diagnoses and indicators. When a person is issued with the card, there is no mistake that he or she is genuinely a disabled person.

Big brand companies are increasingly including disabled people in their promotional materials and advertisements. Guinness featured wheelchair basketball in one of its commercials while United Colors of Benetton included young people with Down syndrome in its advertisements. More recently, wheelchair and crutch users, and amputees were recruited to model at New York Fashion Week. Yes, believe it. Disabled people can be models too, and are capable of doing many other things.

There was no report of whether Ng holds a valid driving licence or not. However, the Road Transport Department only accepts applications for driving tests by disabled people who are certified medically fit by doctors. The driving tests are similar to what non-disabled people have to go through with no exceptions. I know because I had to undergo the entire rigmarole to obtain my driving licence, from submitting to an extensive medical evaluation to driving the full route during the test.

The ‘disabled sticker’ is mostly used as a permit to occupy accessible parking bays. Moreover, these stickers are given out exclusively by the Road Transport Department to drivers with physical impairments with a vehicle that is specifically registered as a disabled person’s vehicle. This is a policy that I disagree with but that is a story for another day. There is no necessity for disabled people who do not need to use these facilities to display that sticker on the windscreen.

There are impairments that are not apparent. For example, people with visual or auditory impairments who do not use assistive devices may not appear to be obviously disabled. Likewise, those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and dyslexia may not display any visible sign of impairment. Therefore, we cannot tell for sure if the persons are disabled or not by just looking at them.

Cyberspace can be a cold and cruel place where people do not usually take responsibility for what they say. From ranting and raving about the accident, tactless netizens moved on to generalising and trivialising about disabled people on the whole. I guess it is easy to speak one’s mind from behind a monitor than to say it face-to-face to us.

A man lost his life but comforting words to support the grieving family were far and few in between. Even the act of the doctor who was a victim in the accident and her effort to resuscitate Mohamad Fandi was hardly brought up. The commenters merely wanted to vent their anger and sought their pound of flesh even though the police were already working on the case.

There was so much hatred. Disabled people were unjustifiably vilified. I know people are angry. We should be angry over the senseless accident, but let’s be civil about it without resorting to maligning and tarring disabled people in general. This victimisation is grossly unfair to those of us who have nothing to do with the accident.

Some of my disabled friends and parents of disabled children were emotionally affected by the slurs, so much so they were moved to speak out openly against the abuse. I am glad to see my peers from different ethnic backgrounds standing up together against these baseless insinuations.

We are not saying disabled people are beyond reproach. We are like everyone else. We can make good decisions just like we can make bad decisions. And for that, like everyone else, we have to take responsibility for the mistakes we make and pay the price for the consequences. But running down the entire community for the actions of one person is unwarranted and unreasonable.

On Friday, Ng pleaded not guilty to a charge of taking amphetamines at a magistrates’ court. She is also under investigation for reckless driving. I say let the law take its course. Instead of being

livid and rabid, let’s spend a moment in silent prayer for the family of Mohamad Fandi that they may find strength and solace. They need it more than anyone else during this difficult time.