Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Right to Quality Life

On May 7th, 2011, a workshop was put together by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and the Bar Council of Malaysia to create awareness among people with disabilities of their constitutional rights. More than 50 people with disabilities and their care givers attended this event.

Yes, it is important to know and understand what our constitutional rights are whether you are able bodied or persons with special needs.

When I was invited to speak on this topic on behalf of the visually impaired persons, VIPs, I quickly went around asking my VIP friends what they face in their daily lives. My friends were eager to share their views.

Firstly, banking, which is an integral part of our lives. It is without a doubt anyone can open an account with any bank including the VIPs. Then, it is the norm to progress to owning an automated teller machine card – ATM card. Do you know that persons with visual impairment in Malaysia are not allowed to hold an ATM card? This is downright selective discrimination. In the US and Australia there are already talking Automated teller machines which allow their VIPs to manage their banking transactions on their own.

The right to move around independently is of utmost importance to any human being in any country. This is so true for the visually impaired as well. Needless for me to elaborate and many of you will agree that there's still much to improve in terms of accessible facilities in public amenities e.g. banks, post offices, transportation hubs, etc. Accessible facilities for the VIPs include tactile guiding blocks, talking lifts, audible traffic lights, Braille notices, to name a few.

Web accessibility is another hot topic which I pointed out. In this digital age, even VIPs are learning computer skills to stay connected for social and professional interaction. In US, it is compulsory for all websites to be fully accessible to all walks of lives. It is the right of every American citizen. In Malaysia, many of our websites are still not fully accessible e.g. government and state agencies, some banks and commercial sites. I strongly believe it is our right to equal access to technology and communications.

In relation to equal access, I would like to share a friend's experience traveling on KL CAT from KLIA to KL Sentral. It is commendable that VIPs are offered a special travel fare concession on this train. However, my friend found to his dismay that he was only allowed to travel on the train that made a few stops along the way to KL Sentral and not on the non-stop express train. There is definitely an element of selective discrimination here. Are persons with disability considered 2nd class citizen?

I would like to share my experience traveling as a visually impaired person. Recently I traveled abroad on Air Asia X. When the announcement was made for the old, persons with special needs and family with small children to board first, I was happy to move forward as this denotes the right for this group of people to board ahead of the rest. My happiness was short lived as the airline service staff did not follow through on the announcement and control the crowd. The over zealous passengers scrambled and I was pushed back and had to retract my white cane to prevent any untoward accidents. An old man in a wheel chair was also pushed behind and had to queue to climb the stairs to board the plane. The rights of persons with special needs took a different meaning in this instance with sheer `tidak apa' attitude.

In summary, if the rights issues I have highlighted here today are addressed, I am sure it will greatly improve, enhance and empower our lives. Not to mention, this will also open up the windows of opportunities for employment, help to develop a knowledge base visually impaired community which in turn can contribute to the economy and growth of the country.

More challenging times ahead!

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