Wednesday June 27, 2012
So much talk and promises
By YU JI
HOW much do you think we as a whole, as a society, care for the disabled? Not a lot it would seem. Most of the grunt work is done by the very few.
To understand just how much more we should do, we need to turn to statistics.
Bar charts, graphs or just plain simple figures are starting points in addressing a problem.
Statistics offer insight, but sometimes, the lack of a statistic is just as telling.
There could be 2.8 million Malaysians with disabilities or there might be more, or maybe fewer.
It seems nobody knows for sure.
“Do we have 2.8 million (disabled Malaysians)? Nobody knows?” asked Assistant Welfare Minister Robert Lawson Chuat in his opening address early this month at a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia dialogue on the disabled and their problems.
That 2.8 million figure repeated across several government sources is a very rough estimate.
The figure is derived from the World Bank’s estimate on the percentage of disabled people worldwide.
The World Bank says about one in 10 are either physically or mentally disabled.
The disabled people include those who can see but with eyesight so poor that they qualify as being legally blind.
It also means people living with autism and the such.
Others like dyslexia, a reading difficulty, are classified as a disability in some countries including Australia, but classification is not universal.
The impact disabilities like these have on people varies widely, but given enough social support, they flourish just like anyone else.
Experts on dyslexia, for instance, like to point out that Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, physics genius Albert Einstein and actor Tom Cruise all had dyslexia.
But since classification on disabilities varies so widely, no global estimate is ever close at revealing what individual countries need to do to best help the disabled within their own social norms and cultural experiences.
In Malaysia, preliminary figures from last year’s census showed a population of about 28 million, meaning one in 10 of that is 2.8 million.
But this is a very rough estimate. Why? Because there are just 280,000 on Malaysia’s disabled people’s registry.
This means the actual number of disabled Malaysians is anywhere between 280,000 and 2.8 million.
(Sarawak’s disabled persons registry shows 28,000 out of a population of 2.5 million.)
The lack of a more accurate statistic is tellingly sad precisely because the margin of error is so large.
Without accuracy, it is difficult to plan disabled-friendly buildings.
How many schools do we need to cater to these young Malaysians? Are there enough disabled-friendly buses and taxis around?
The Federal Government on its part has taken the registry that shows 280,000 disabled persons (about 1% of the population) as a baseline.
There are policies formulated on that very figure. For example, the Federal Government has stressed that 1% of civil servants must be from the disabled community. That’s well and good, except that the Government admits it has not met that quota.
As for the Sarawak government, its work on disability issues has only just began. The state Welfare, Women and Family Development Ministry is barely nine months old, said the assistant welfare minister at the human rights dialogue session recently.
Lawson also said previous efforts taken by the state had come under a hotchpotch of different agencies.
Those on the registry are entitled to a host of benefits.
Of course, the matter of welfare for the disabled was a hot issue some months ago, when a disabled person had his aid cancelled, ostensibly for supporting the Opposition.
Officials eventually claimed that Frusis Lebi’s financial aid was cancelled, not for political reasons, but because he was already earning more than RM2,000 a month.
Whatever it may be, at the end of the day, the Government cannot claim it has done well for the disabled.
The lack of a more accurate statistic and its unwillingness to fill up just 1% of the civil service with disabled people show much promises are just paying lip service.
The Government has yet to strictly enforce building rules and regulations including mandatory carparks for the disabled, standardised sizes of sidewalks and zebra crossings.
As concerned citizens, we need to do more as well. We must persuade Putrajaya and Petra Jaya to provide more funding for existing rules and regulations to be enforced and for policymakers to accept the input of experts and the disabled.