Silent cry for help
A recent workshop to empower women living with disabilities turned out to be an eye-opener for many.
MORE than two dozen women with disabilities, together with their caregivers, participated in a four-day regional workshop in Pattaya, Thailand, last month.
Themed Voices Of Our Own: Empowering Women With Disabilities, the workshop aimed to help women use available human rights channels and resources as advocacy tools to eliminate violence against disabled women.
There were at least two participants each from Asean member countries such as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam. The Philippines and Singapore were unable to participate in the special event.
Malaysia had two representatives, one of whom was Law King Kiew, a paralympian at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000.
Law shared that this was one of the most eye-opening workshops which she had attended.
“Apart from wheelchair-users, there were also persons who were blind,” said Law, 53, who became paralysed from the waist down following a spinal injury at the age of 19.
“What was different about this workshop was the presence of persons with learning disabilities who were usually left out of such events,” Law observed, adding that it was interesting to get their input which was conveyed by their parents who were the caregivers.
Law, who sees herself as an activist for the disabled, said the most poignant stories came from Deaf participants. Nearly half a dozen of them were from the host country, Thailand. The organisers included the Deaf in the workshop to raise awareness among participants, especially those with other types of handicaps.
Participants shared stories of how they were denied education and faced discrimination and social stigma as women with disabilities in their respective countries. It was the Deaf women’s struggles that were the most heartbreaking. “They suffered more, especially as victims of violence, as their disability was invisible,” said Law.
Participants heard horror stories of how some Deaf women were dragged into nearby bushes and raped after visiting the temple to fulfil their religious obligations. They were
Activist: unable to shout or scream for help because of their condition. Lodging a report with the authorities was another nightmare as the police were unfamiliar with sign language.
“The Deaf’s complaints were often not taken seriously. Some of them were even accused of inviting trouble,” said Law.
The workshop participants discovered that such situations did not only happen in public places but also in boarding school dormitories, at the workplace and even in the home.
The Deaf related their stories in close-door sessions with the help of sign language interpreters.
The full-day sessions ended with free time in the evenings for shopping and visits.
Law was pleased with the disabled-friendly resort where they stayed during the four-day workshop from Jan 13 to 16.
“The organisers should be credited for making sure that the washrooms were fitted with features such as grab bars and wide doors,” Law said.
The speakers and trainers were all women with disabilities except for one man in a wheelchair who spoke on media sensitivity to persons with disabilities.
The first two days of the workshops were spent familiarising participants with the issues at hand and what the workshop hoped to achieve. The third day included learning trips to a couple of places.
“One of the most inspiring venues was a vocational school for persons with disabilities. The students were taught a number of skills and learnt English and information technology, and how to use computers. All the teachers were volunteers and most of the staff, including the principal, were wheelchair users.
“We also visited another vocational outfit for social entrepreneurs where non-disabled students were encouraged to sit in wheelchairs or be blindfolded to enable them to experience what it was like to live with a disability.
“They had to put away their mobile phones and live without electricity on certain days, and even skipped a meal to experience hunger,” Law added.
Law King Kiew (forefront) posing with participants at a recent workshop to raise disability awareness in Pattaya, Thailand.