Malaysian and international law defends the rights of people with disabilities. In Malaysia, the main act concerning PWDs is the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. Internationally, we have the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
What’s in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008?
The PWD Act 2008 provides for the registration, protection, rehabilitation, development and wellbeing of PWD.
PWD have equal rights as people without disabilities to access:
- public facilities and buildings, and public transport
- general education and all levels of schooling
- employment and just, favourable working conditions
- information, communication and technology
- cultural material, media and art performances, and monuments or sites related to these
- recreational, leisure and sports activities.
- essential healthcare services, gender-sensitive health services, rehabilitation
- assistance during emergencies, including natural disasters and armed conflict
The government or the providers of the things listed above must take measures to ensure PWD can use and access them. This can include measures like:
- encouraging PWD to participate in such activities, and to organise regarding related matters
- conforming to universal design
- providing suitable accommodations
- aiding the learning of Malaysian Sign Language, Braille, AAC and mobility skills
- protecting PWD’s rights to working conditions that are safe and protected, stable, equal-opportunity and equal pay for equal work
- providing information in accessible formats, in a timely fashion, without additional costs.
- accepting and facilitating the use of AAC, sign language, Braille and other methods of a PWD’s choice in official transactions
- recognising their cultural and linguistic identities, such as sign language and Deaf culture
The National Council for Persons with Disabilities
An established National Council for Persons with Disabilities is responsible for
- making recommendations to the Government on all aspects of persons with disabilities, including making new laws or changing existing ones
- overseeing, reviewing and co-ordinating the implementation of national policies and plan of action relating to PWD
- monitoring and evaluating the impact of policies and activities designed to achieve full, effective participation of PWD in society
- deciding who may be registered and how Kad OKU are issues or cancelled
- developing education and awareness programmes and strategies regarding PWD
- fostering respect for the rights and dignity of PWD, at all levels of education and within adult society
- adopt measures to recognise the skills and abilities of PWD, together with their contributions to the workplace
- advise the government on disability-related issues, including at an international level
- collect and collate data, perform research and promote research related to PWD
- promote the development of initial and continued training for habilitation and rehabilitation staff
- promote employment and career advancement opportunities for PWD, and assist them in finding employment on an equal basis with persons without disabilities
- promote opportunities for training, self-employment, entrepreneurship, development of cooperatives, starting one’s business and working from home.
The National Council is also responsible for maintaining a registrar of PWD in each state. Registering as a PWD/OKU helps prove that you are eligible for certain services or benefits. The Registrar may ask you for additional documentation or information as they see fit. If you do not provide the documents or information, your application will be considered withdrawn and you will have to start over. If your registration is refused or turned down, you can appeal to the Minister in charge, whose decision will be final. The National Council decides who may be registered and how Kad OKU are issued or cancelled.
What else does the act cover?
Private institutions and NGOs that care for PWD must employ speech therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. These institutions must submit evidence of such personnel during registration. Depending on the circumstances, the Minister in charge of the National Council might allow these personnel to periodically visit these institutions instead of being permanently employed there.
In the Act, the Government shall provide lifelong protections and social support systems for severely disabled PWD, or one with one or more disabilities dependent on others for their basic daily living activities. This is to ensure their welfare remains unaffected after the death of parents or caregivers. These caregivers, or any NGOs wishing to provide them institutional care, can apply to the National Council for financial incentives.
What’s in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
The international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) aims to set out the rights of PWD in detail, and set out a code of implementation. Countries that have signed the convention commit to develop and carry out policies, laws and administrative measurements that will secure these laws, and abolish laws, customs and practices that discriminate against PWD. 175 countries have ratified the convention, with 160 signatories (meaning that they have signed both the convention and its optional protocol)
In 50 articles, the convention covers topics that include
- the rights of women and children with disabilities
- the right of PWD to be equally recognised before the law
- the right of PWD to be free from exploitation, violence and abuse
- the right of PWD to be equally recognised before the law
- the right of PWD to access independent living
- the rights of PWD to healthcare, education, employment and cultural life
The convention further states that children with disabilities have equal rights to children without disabilities. They must not be separated from parents against their will, except when authorities determine it is in the child’s best interest. In no case may a child and their parents be separated based on their disability.
Malaysia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 6 July 2010, with reservations to:
- Article 15 – Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Article 18 – Liberty of movement and nationality
One criticism of the Persons with Disabilities Act is that while it promotes the protection of rights for PWD, it does not state penalties for discrimination or obstructing these rights. In addition, the Act also includes a clause that shields members of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities from legal action, as long as their actions are considered to be made ‘in good faith’.
Activists, non-governmental organisations and national councils for the disabled are fighting for an accessible, inclusive country. They want to ensure PWD are represented on an equal footing with abled people in civil society. It’s up to all of us, disabled and abled, to understand what PWD rights are, stand together and speak up to protect and promote them.