Friday, July 31, 2009

National Advocacy & Awareness Disability Campaign

SPEECH by Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun
held on 31st July 2009 @ SEGI UNIVERSITY COLLEGE

at the Opening Ceremony..from left Professor Dr. Muhamad Awang (SEGi University College Vice Chancellor), Mr. Kamal Malhotra(Resident Representative of the UNDP) & Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun
(photo by CFL)

First and foremost, allow me to take this opportunity to thank the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and SEGI University College for inviting me to officiate the National Advocacy and Awareness Disability Campaign. I am pleased to see such a distinguished gathering of representatives from policy makers, NGOs, schools, academia, media and civil society. We are all here for one purpose: to fight attitudinal prejudices and to galvanize support for disabled persons to ensure their rights and full participation in all aspects of society.

It is for this reason that “Real Lives, Real Abilities” has been chosen as the theme for this campaign today. It helps to draw our attention to the fact that disabled people are very much a part of our community and really like the rest of us want to enjoy life to the fullest. In this regard, every one of us here has a role and responsibility to play in order to mainstream the disabled people in all aspects of society and development. Also, we need to ensure they are not left behind as the country move forward.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The World Health Organisation estimated that there are approximately 650 million persons around the world living with disabilities – that is about 10 per cent of the world population and this ballpark figure applies to countries as well. In Malaysia, there is no comprehensive data on the prevalence of disabilities. As of Mac 2009, 256, 364 are registered with the Department of Social Welfare although the actual figure is expected to be significantly higher. The main reason for the low registration is because registration is voluntary. At the time being, the Government has no plans to make registration compulsory as we believe that persons with disabilities must be given informed choice. However, there is a need to create awareness among persons with disabilities and their families on the importance of registration and to encourage them to come forward to register.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Persons with disabilities encounter myriads of physical and social barriers and challenges that impede their participation in society. Society’s attitudes, prejudices, beliefs and ignorance create obstacles to inclusion. In addition, there is often failure to recognise their social and economic contributions and a tendency to see only the disability rather than the person. The lack of accommodation in employment, education and transportation present a much serious challenge. As a result, persons with disabilities often do not have access to the same opportunities as others, have higher rates of unemployment, live in poverty and they are more likely to be socially isolated.

However, the scenario is changing and affecting persons with disabilities globally. There has been a paradigm shift in attitude and approaches in dealing with issues of disabilities, from the medical model to the social model. Persons with disabilities are no longer seen as “objects” of charity and a medical problem but as “subjects” with rights. They are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society. The problem of disabilities lies not within the individual but rather on the social and physical barriers in our environment. This paradigm shift from charity-based to rights-based is the result of Disabled People’s Organisations who have work together to reposition disability as a human rights issue and also the work of the United Nations.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons. This is followed by the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons in 1982 and the Decade of Disabled Persons 1983-1992, urging member nations to bring positive changes to the lives of persons with disabilities. The Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 1993, providing policy guidelines in promoting the same opportunities to persons with disabilities that others enjoy, and most recently the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which is aimed to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities.

at the Press Conference (photo by CFL)

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Malaysia has also moved in line with this paradigm shift. This is proven by the effort taken by the Government to put in place the National Policy on Persons with Disabilities to enhance their well-being and to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy equal rights and full participation in the Malaysian society.

The Policy sets out 28 strategies focussing on 15 priority areas namely advocacy, accessibility, health, rehabilitation, education, employment, personal safety and social protection, support services, social, development of human resources, participation of society, research and development, housing, children with disabilities and women with disabilities. A National Plan of Action has also been drawn to realise the objectives set out in the Policy and is being carried out through multi-sectoral collaboration.

Malaysia has also signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 8 April 2008. The signing of the Convention is our commitment to promote an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for persons with disabilities, and is in line with other international agreements such as the “Proclamation for Full Participation and Equality of Persons with disabilities” and “Biwako Millennium Framework for Action” adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), of which Malaysia is a member.

Although Malaysia has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the signing itself shows our support for the Convention and an indication of our intention to ratify the Convention at a later date. I believe there will be no problem for Malaysia to ratify the Convention as the mechanisms are in place. Moreover, the Convention provides for progressive realisation as far as social and economic rights are concerned.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The Government has also passed the Persons with Disabilities Act which has come into force on 7 July 2008. The Act is the first legislation for persons with disabilities. It is also a first rights-based legislation in Malaysia, paving the way for equal opportunities and full participation of persons with disabilities. With the enforcement of the Act, physical and social barriers faced by persons with disabilities will be addressed. Thus, they will be able to enjoy better public transport facilities, amenities and services and equal opportunities to health, education, information, communication and technology, rehabilitation, improved employment opportunities as well as full participation in sports, leisure and cultural life.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The enforcement of the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 is just the first step and a catalyst in ensuring that Persons with Disabilities enjoys equal rights and opportunities. It must be accompanied by actions and much works need to be done to produce the results aspired in the Act. First amongst all is the need to change society’s attitude on persons with disabilities.

As I have mentioned earlier, there is still lack of societal awareness on persons with disabilities. Disability frightens people and society often has negative attitudes and stereotype assumptions about persons with disabilities. Reaction such as rude stares, unkind remarks and discrimination are still rampant. This together with the lack of accessibility to the built environment and transportation has hinders their daily activities causing many persons with disabilities to be segregated from mainstream society.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I hereby congratulate UNDP and SEGi University College for the initiative taken to organise this awareness campaign. I understand that this campaign is not a one off programme but rather part of a national advocacy and awareness campaign to fight attitudinal prejudices and to galvanize public support for the need to ensure their full participation in all aspects of society. The campaign is being supported by two UNDP projects which are currently being implemented with the support of the Economic Planning Unit, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, and the State Planning Units for Johor and Penang. The projects aim to reduce barriers that persons with disabilities face in finding and retaining employment and accessing public transportation respectively, with the long-term objective of increasing their economic and social independence.

I know it is not easy to change deep-rooted perception and misconception about disability. However, we all can play a role to help hasten the process of mainstreaming disability by discarding negative perceptions of persons with disabilities as objects of pity but as individuals with different abilities and with rights as anyone of us. Therefore, it is time for us to come together to act and take steps to facilitate and ensure the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities into the society. Let us start by changing our mindset and perception on disability and dismantling the physical and social barriers that exist in our society.

On that note, ladies and gentlemen, I have pleasure to launch the National Advocacy and Awareness Disability Campaign. Thank you.

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