Long way yet before Malaysia becomes disabled-friendly, says activist

Activists holding up signs urging people to love and accept disabled individuals.

PETALING JAYA: A disabled activist has decried the lack of aid and support for the community in Malaysia, saying there is still a long way to go before the country can be considered disabled-friendly.

Anthony Thanasayan, 59, said support for disabled people in Malaysia is almost “non-existent”.

“For a long time, people thought we were the sole responsibility of the welfare department and that only they were able to attend to our needs.

“What everyone failed to realise is that we need the help of almost every ministry, from transport and health to agriculture, economy, and housing and local government,” he told FMT.

When Thanasayan led a group of disabled activists to meet with the women, family and community development minister last week, he said it was part of an exercise to show what disabled people experience when it comes to travelling via public transport.

“But sadly, the exercise failed since neither the minister nor her deputy were interested to see for themselves what we went through to meet them.

“This is one area that sets Malaysia far apart from the other countries which have superb facilities for their disabled communities,” the former Petaling Jaya municipal councillor said.

In Malaysia, Thanasayan said the disabled do not go out for fear of being stranded somewhere and not being able to get home after that.

“The facilities are incomplete and not available at some places. They stop halfway. And no one cares if you are stranded. That’s how it is here,” said the president of the Malaysian Animal-Assisted Therapy for the Disabled and Elderly Association.

Anthony Thanasayan (right) and the disabled activists during their meeting with Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin yesterday.

He said a group of them had travelled to Eugene, Oregon, in the 1990s to meet with disabled activists, and found an impressive public transportation system there.

“For once, I felt happy that I didn’t have to depend on anyone to bring me around. I stayed with a host family who offered to take me around but I insisted that I wanted to explore the city on my own.

“It was one of the most impressive disabled-friendly systems I ever came across.

“All you have to do is go to the bus stop. When the bus pulls over, the driver lowers the ramp to ground level and you wheel yourself on it. He then lifts the ramp into the bus into an area where the wheelchair can be ‘parked’ safely until you reach your destination.

“We never felt so independent in our lives.”

Thanasayan said what the disabled community needs now is a support group they can turn to in times of need, whether physical or mental.

“We haven’t been able to create an ecosystem where support for the disabled is easily available.

“What happens when their helpers leave? What happens when their family members are no longer around? What about those who don’t have family members?

“There are many types of disabilities. Does the government know how to address all of them?” he asked.

He said acts like supplying wheelchairs for the disabled were far from understanding and fulfilling what each disabled person needs.

“For example, those who are not fully paralysed can still work if they are given proper training. They do this abroad but I don’t see this happening here.”

He said there are two main deterrents to them working: either the surroundings are not designed to accommodate disabled people or nobody helps train them.

“In some countries, the disabled are trained to run community schools where they attend to disabled students. We can do this here too,” he added.

Thanasayan, who accompanied several other disabled activists at a meeting with Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin yesterday, said he now has “renewed hopes” that help may be coming their way.

“The minister agreed with one of the items we listed in the memorandum we submitted to the women, family and community development ministry, that is to create an advisory board including disabled people.

“Previously, there was hardly any presence of disabled people in local councils, so it’s good news when she said she will help set up this advisory board,” he said.

“The welfare department is under the women, family and community development ministry,” he added. “After what happened last week, we feel that they need to review some of their policies pertaining to disabled people.”