May 11th was a historical day for Malaysia, as the 14th general elections resulted in the first change of government since Malaya’s initial independence. More than 7 months on, we look at what has happened since, and how this affects the lives of persons with disabilities in Malaysia.
Laws and policy changes
PWD welfare is the responsibility of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. The Deputy Prime Minister’s political secretary for the ministry, Dr. Zaliha Mustafa, has stated that various initiatives have been planned to benefit PWDs across the nation, especially through the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM) or Department of Social Welfare. These initiatives will be rolled out on a stage-by-stage basis.
While Malaysia has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the country did not sign on its optional protocol. The protocol would have allowed a disabled person to raise to any violation of their rights to an international body, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The government has also been urged by NASOM and Malaysia Disabled Prihatin to review and adopt different policies for PWD. This came after Ahmad Ziqri Morshidi, an autistic young man, was arrested and placed in remand for molesting a woman.
The group Harapan OKU has called for the Persons with Disability Act 2008 and other relevant laws to be reviewed. The current Act describes and discourages acts of discrimination, but does not set forth penalties for discriminatory acts. Harapan OKU is instead proposing a Disability Discrimination Act to secure more rights. They have also asked for a “Commission for Disability Inclusion”, with enforcement powers to monitor and ensure the implementation of policies and action plans upholding the rights of all PWD in Malaysia.
Nonprofit organisation SOS Missions (SOSM) is currently campaigning to amend the PWD act to recognise service dogs for the visually impaired, much like SOSM founder Steven Chan’s guide dog LaShawn.
Budget and Finances
Malaysia’s Budget 2019 has allocated a BSH (Bantuan Sara Hidup) aid of RM120 for up to 4 children aged 18 and below in a family. For PWD, this age limit is removed.
The government will also identify and collaborate with NGOs and social enterprises to support their work in empowering marginalised communities.A total of RM10 million has been allocated to expand such initiatives.
According to disability activist Anthony Thanasayan, this still falls short of the desired RM500 monthly allowance for PWDs. It’s also worth noting that he also stated the government did not call in any PWD representatives to discuss the budget and provide their feedback as in previous years.
Minister of Education Dr. Maszlee Malik has suggested that zakat assistance should be extended to PWDs through asnaf filsabilillah, or ‘in the cause of Allah’.
The Minister of Education has also promised to upgrade and improve what is necessary in the nation’s special education schools. He has also directed every program sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Dewan Budaya dan Pustaka must include a sign language interpreter.
The Ministry is also beginning to implement the Zero Reject Policy in 2019 to ensure special needs students get access to education. Their target is to have 75% of special needs students receiving basic education via the Inclusive Education Program (PPI) by 2023.
They will be upgrading schools across the country to become more OKU-friendly. Deputy Minister of Education, Teo Nie Ching, has stated that the ministry has allocated RM200,000 for each school.
The government is also taking steps to ensure entrepreneurs in the disabled community are not marginalised and will be better empowered. Over 150 disabled entrepreneurs were showcased at the Malaysia Agriculture, Horticulture and Agrotourism (MAHA) exhibition 2018, the first time in history they had been highlighted in such a way. FAMA Chairman Ishak Ismail said that FAMA would be implementing Entrepreneurship Development programmes in 2019 dedicated to PWD, giving entrepreneurs more training and business opportunities.
The Women, Family and Community Development ministry is encouraging all ministries to have a workforce composed of at least 1% PWD. Presently, the Education Ministry has the highest number of such employees with 1,477, but the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development Ministry (1.87%) has the highest percentage, followed by Women, Family and Community Development (1.75%). They plan to set an example to encourage private companies to follow suit.
While there have been suggestions to fine companies that fail to fulfil this criteria, Hannah Yeoh feels that the move might backfire as some companies might opt to pay the fine instead of hiring PWD staff, as it would be cheaper than paying for staff training.
Ironically, the strong stigma against PWD discourages parents from registering their children, which makes it difficult to obtain budget allocations for the community. This in turn makes it harder for registered PWDs to acquire aid.
In response to the difficulty faced by PWDs in fires and emergencies, the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) will be focusing on PWD safety in all of their programmes starting 2019.
Earlier in 2018, the government was in discussions to replace existing feeder buses with Grab cars for hire for MRT users. However, it was shot down by NGOs and disability advocates who pointed out that feeder buses are more affordable and accessible than Grab cars, and the suggestion would place financial pressure on PWDs and the underprivileged.
There was also backlash when Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh suggested that transgender women use OKU toilets to prevent cisgender (i.e., not transgender) women from feeling unsafe.
Change is happening slowly for PWD communities in Malaysia Baru, but there has been no immediate change in cracking down on discrimination. A number of ideas and decisions have excluded the voices of persons with disabilities, when such feedback could have strengthened solutions or prevented outright discrimination, whether intentional or unintentional.
If positive effects are to reach Malaysia’s people with disabilities, PWDs must achieve greater representation in political and advocacy roles, and their voices must be heard as loudly as their abled counterparts.
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