Bud­get 2019 a let down for dis­abled peo­ple

The Borneo Post - - THOUGHTS & OPINIONS -

DIS­ABLED peo­ple make up an es­ti­mated 15 per cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. The is­sues that af­flict us should be given more pro­por­tion­ate at­ten­tion see­ing that we are one of the largest mi­nori­ties.

We have been very vo­cal in pre­sent­ing our case to the au­thor­i­ties, be it the mu­nic­i­pal, state or fed­eral gov­ern­ments. We were left dis­ap­pointed time and again af­ter countless years of hav­ing high ex­pec­ta­tions on the gov­ern­ment to look into our is­sues and re­solve them.

Nev­er­the­less, with a new gov­ern­ment in place, dis­abled peo­ple have been look­ing for­ward to more in­clu­sive and com­pre­hen­sive poli­cies to put the is­sues we have been fac­ing to the fore­front, and hope­fully re­solve some of the ma­jor ones.

We have been an­tic­i­pat­ing the Bud­get 2019 to re­flect this new hope. We as­sumed the cur­rent gov­ern­ment will be more se­ri­ous when it comes to the de­vel­op­ment of ac­ces­si­ble ser­vices and fa­cil­i­ties. Most im­por­tantly, we ex­pected to see some ad­vance­ment in the so­cial in­clu­sion of dis­abled peo­ple.

In the en­tire Bud­get 2019 speech by the fi­nance min­is­ter, dis­abil­ity or dis­abled per­sons was only men­tioned twice. First is ‘Ban­tuan Sara Hidup’ for B40 house­holds where RM120 will be dis­bursed an­nu­ally to dis­abled chil­dren. Sec­ond is the col­lab­o­ra­tion with NGOs and so­cial en­ter­prises one of which will be the pro­cure­ment of en­velopes from Per­sat­uan Pemuli­han Orang Ku­rang Upaya.

The trickle-down ef­fect from this bud­get that will ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity in gen­eral is min­i­mal at best. No sub­stan­tive pro­pos­als were made to en­able and em­power the 4.8 mil­lion peo­ple af­fected by dis­abil­ity. This bud­get is a to­tal dis­ap­point­ment as far as dis­abled peo­ple are con­cerned. Again, we are left out from the de­vel­op­ment of main­stream so­ci­ety.

The needs of dis­abled peo­ple are not dif­fi­cult to fathom. What non-dis­abled peo­ple can do in so­ci­ety are the same things dis­abled peo­ple need. We need equal ac­cess to the built en­vi­ron­ment and pub­lic trans­porta­tion. We need equal op­por­tu­ni­ties in ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment. We must be able to prac­tice our cul­tural and re­li­gious obli­ga­tions. In short we must achieve so­cial in­clu­sion in all as­pects of life and liv­ing.

To this end, we must be in­cluded in all de­ci­sion mak­ing pro­cesses that af­fect us. De­ci­sions can­not be uni­lat­er­ally made on our be­half be­cause there are char­ac­ter­is­tics about dis­abil­ity that non-dis­abled peo­ple can nei­ther un­der­stand nor em­pathise with. This is of­ten not prac­tised. The gov­ern­ment has been pa­ter­nal­is­tic in their ap­proach, putting in place pro­ce­dures, fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices that nei­ther in­volved nor in con­sul­ta­tion with us.

There is a ten­dency to group all dis­abil­ity is­sues as one. This is a mis­take. We are not a ho­mo­ge­neous com­mu­nity. That is the rea­son for the seven cat­e­gories of dis­abled peo­ple for regis­tra­tion pur­poses un­der the Min­istry of Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment. Each cat­e­gory has unique con­di­tions and needs.

Each cat­e­gory of im­pair­ment must be rep­re­sented across the board. For ex­am­ple, a per­son with phys­i­cal im­pair­ment should not be the sole com­mit­tee mem­ber taken as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all dis­abled peo­ple. Each im­pair­ment is dif­fer­ent and there is no way one per­son can rep­re­sent such a wide spec­trum of con­di­tions.

Did the gov­ern­ment en­gage in mean­ing­ful di­a­logue with the com­mu­nity be­fore draw­ing up Bud­get 2019? Di­a­logue should not be a to­ken 3-hour meet­ing with 100 dis­abled peo­ple. Nei­ther should it be mo­nop­o­lised by a few or­gan­i­sa­tions nor un­bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the var­i­ous cat­e­gories of im­pair­ments. There must be fo­cus groups pro­vid­ing feed­back from the grass­roots to en­sure ev­ery­one gets their voice heard and their is­sues se­ri­ously looked into.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Min­istry of Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment has all the data on dis­abil­ity. The De­part­ment of So­cial Wel­fare and De­part­ment for the De­vel­op­ment of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties are in pos­ses­sion of sim­i­lar in­for­ma­tion gleamed from of­fi­cers who have en­gaged the com­mu­nity in for­mal and in­for­mal ses­sions. With so much ev­i­dence on hand, there is no rea­son why prob­lems faced by the com­mu­nity con­tin­ued to be side-lined and ig­nored.

There­fore, the in­signif­i­cant al­lo­ca­tion to im­prove the qual­ity of life of dis­abled peo­ple has left us won­der­ing where we stand in so­ci­ety. We had ex­pected more from the new gov­ern­ment. This maiden bud­get has shown that noth­ing much has changed.

I was told things can­not change overnight. I was ad­vised to be pa­tient as this is still a new gov­ern­ment and they have many other press­ing is­sues to sort out. I have been ad­vo­cat­ing for the past 15 years. Many of my peers have been do­ing the same long be­fore me. We are re­al­is­tic. We do not ex­pect im­me­di­ate re­sults.

Even then, the progress in de­vel­op­ing a more dis­abil­i­ty­in­clu­sive so­ci­ety is dis­parate with the rapid progress the coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. We may have First World in­fra­struc­ture but our fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices for dis­abled peo­ple is of Third World stan­dards. This is an em­bar­rass­ment es­pe­cially when we are striv­ing to be a de­vel­oped na­tion in the com­ing years.

I was asked whether dis­abled peo­ple will ben­e­fit from the un­lim­ited RM100 pub­lic trans­port pass for RapidKL rail and bus net­work and RM50 monthly pass just for RapidKL stated in the bud­get. My take is that even if the fare is free for dis­abled peo­ple, many of us will find it hard to use pub­lic trans­port for the lack of seam­less con­nec­tiv­ity from our homes to bus stop and the last mile to the des­ti­na­tion.

What about the trans­porta­tion needs of peo­ple liv­ing in ar­eas not served by RapidKL? What about the ru­ral ar­eas? It is time for the gov­ern­ment to move away from the mind­set of de­vel­op­ing in­fra­struc­ture in the ma­jor cities only, es­pe­cially around Klang Val­ley. If any­thing, peo­ple liv­ing out­side ma­jor cities need the same de­vel­op­ment as well.

Ac­ces­si­ble in­fra­struc­ture should not be done on a piece­meal ba­sis. It must be holis­tic. Any break in be­tween will leave us stranded, or even worse, pose a risk to our life and limb, as I have so of­ten ex­pe­ri­enced in my daily com­mute to work. This is cru­cial as an ac­ces­si­ble built en­vi­ron­ment and pub­lic trans­port al­lows us to re­alise so­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion. With­out it, we are mostly con­fined to our homes.

Prior to the Bud­get 2019 speech, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion an­nounced plans to have 75 per cent of stu­dents with spe­cial needs at­tend­ing In­clu­sive Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gramme with main­stream stu­dents by 2023. This is a com­mend­able ini­tia­tive.

Bud­get should have been al­lo­cated to im­prove the con­nec­tiv­ity to and fa­cil­i­ties of the schools to en­sure the plans can be­come a re­al­ity. Five years is not a long time to get all th­ese in place. With­out cor­re­spond­ing in­fra­struc­ture up­grades, it will be dif­fi­cult for dis­abled stu­dents to go to school.

In short, Bud­get 2019 has left dis­abled peo­ple high and dry. I hope our needs will be looked into more se­ri­ously in the fol­low­ing years’ bud­gets. We do not need hand­outs. We need pro­grammes that can en­able and em­power us. We want to be pro­duc­tive and con­trib­ute to na­tion build­ing as well. At the mo­ment, this is still a pipe dream for many of my dis­abled friends.

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