Social welfare workers and activists do not count. The average Malaysian is likely to look at a PWD and express sympathy to a friend or two, besides making a small donation when someone asks for it, but it stops at that.
The reality suggests that Malaysia has yet to wake up to disability. PWD are among the vulnerable groups in the society, according to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).
National paralympians (from left) Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, Siti Noor Radiah Ismail, Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi, and Abdul Latif Romly pose with their respective gold and bronze medals they won at Rio 2016 Paralympics. Bernama pix.
The country ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on July 6, 2010, with reservations about Articles 15 and 18.
It has not signed the Optional Protocols to this convention.
However, the Commission notes that ratification of the CRPD is a step towards proving Malaysia’s readiness to translate these rights into action.
It is vital to consider the questions posed earlier, if Malaysia wants the 531,962 PWD (registered with the Welfare Department between 2010 and 2014) to participate fully in society by offering them opportunities to pursue their dreams and provide for their families.
Yes, the rights of PWD have been raised and discussed at length, but we still do not know what the outcome will be. Unicef Malaysia disability consultant Zoe Gan wrote in the New Straits Times on April 3 that Malaysia is falling behind in meeting the needs and upholding the rights of children with disabilities.
The ratification of a number of UN conventions notwithstanding, children with disabilities have no legal acknowledgement in the Federal Constitution.
They are mentioned in the national policy for children, the Child Act 2001 and the Disability Act 2008, but the provisions are inadequate and not strong enough to meet the whole range of development and protection needs of the youngsters in question.
Gan wants more action and less talk. The types of disabilities range from visual, speech and hearing impairments to physical conditions, such as challenges with mobility, agility, pain and those relating to mental health.
People continue to voice their dissatisfaction with Suhakam, and these include the registration of PWD, the education system, access to public amenities, transportation facilities, employment openings and healthcare.
The main challenge faced by children with disabilities comes from exclusion, which translates to not having equal access to facilities, services and opportunities like other children.
A 2012 Unicef Malaysia study found that only one per cent of all children with disabilities in Malaysia were in the public school system, whether in inclusive or special needs education.
What happened to the rest? The focus should be on what people can do and to open the door a little wider to create chances for PWD in school, work and the sporting field.
The Paralympians who did the country proud at the Rio Paralympics amply demonstrate that disability is not a barrier to fulfilling a dream.