Punish developers who ignore needs of the disabled, says activist

The Independent Living and Training Centre provides skills training for the disabled.

KUALA LUMPUR: An activist for the physically handicapped has called for legislation that provides for the punishment of real estate developers who ignore the needs of disabled persons.

G Francis Siva, co-founder and president of the Independent Living and Training Centre, said the Persons with Disabilities Act needed to be amended to specify the penalties to be imposed on those who discriminate against the disabled, including developers who fail to provide facilities required by handicapped persons.

He said the act also needed a proper definition of “discrimination”.

Siva criticised local councils that have approved plans for buildings “that are not up to standard” in terms of their provision of facilities for the disabled, in spite of the guidelines available.

He said most plans looked good on paper but would not get realised because spending cuts would usually affect amenities meant for the disabled.

Noting that each local council currently has its own set of criteria for the approval of building plans, he urged the federal government to come up with a national standard and insist that it be followed throughout the country.

Siva’s organisation has been providing counselling and skills training for the disabled for nearly 20 years.

He told FMT the community remained marginalised despite their large presence in Malaysian society.

A handicapped woman being tended to by a family member.

More than 400,000 disabled people were registered with the welfare department in 2017.

Siva said he had come across low-income disabled persons who complained that the department had withdrawn their RM300 monthly allowance, and he attributed this to the incompetence of civil servants dealing with the handicapped.

In August 2017, Nancy Shukri, then a minister in the prime minister’s department, said recipients of the allowance would have to renew their applications annually for review so that the government could plug leakages.

“It is possible that there are cases where eligible recipients have died and the deaths were not reported,” she was quoted as saying.

Siva said the welfare department had enough resources to contact recipients to find out if they still needed their allowances.

“In the case of some disabled people,” he said, “you can’t really expect them to remember when exactly they renewed their application. Some of the poor, disabled people don’t have the knowledge or awareness.

“The RM300 is practically food for them.”

Siva, who was 27 when he suffered a spinal cord injury in a road accident, said most of the disabled he had come across did not have insurance cover and would depend on family support.

He said former able-bodied persons who have become paralysed tended to descend into poverty, dragging their families down with them if they were breadwinners.

Siva also cried foul over an announcement that Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh made last year to the effect that transgender persons could use toilets meant for the disabled.

“That’s wrong,” he said. “They shouldn’t allow that. Facilities for us are already limited.”

He noted that toilets for the handicapped could be used by disabled persons of both sexes and said people often underestimated how difficult it was to use the facilities.

“We’re not going inside just for five minutes. It’s not easy. It takes time for us to get on and get off the toilet seat.”

He said government assistance for the disabled was grossly inadequate and he scoffed at officials who like to be photographed with the handicapped on festive occasions but would do little to speak up for their needs.

“They need to appoint more disabled people in the prime minister’s department,” he said. “They appointed a senator for us, but that’s not enough.

“The senator must be bold enough to bring up our issues in parliament. He must work with NGOs and blast the issues through.”