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December 8, 2004

IDD a special day indeed

From: The Malaysia Star, Malaysia - Dec 8, 2004


Nothing About Us Without Us! was the popular (and main) punch line that hundreds of disabled people and activists on disability the world over employed last week to bring about greater attention to themselves and their plight to mark International Day of Disabled Persons (IDD).

Rather than having people without any handicap represent them and their interests, the powerful slogan – put forward by the Canada-based Disabled Peoples' International organisation – calls for the immediate, unconditional and active inclusion of disabled people everywhere in every matter that involves their lives and future.

The United Nations' designated day, which is held on the third of every December, was created 12 years ago to sensitise society to the needs and rights of today's more than 600 million persons with disabilities around the globe.

Even UN Secretary-General Dr Kofi Annan had something to say in an official statement released on IDD last Friday.

Inclusion Daily Express (IDE) – an excellent daily e-mail news and information service from Spokane, Washington, that focuses on disability rights and equality – quoted Annan as saying: "Today, as a result of a dramatic shift in perspective that has been taking place over the past two decades, persons with disabilities have started to be viewed as people who must enjoy the full spectrum of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights.

"No society can claim to be based on justice and equality without persons with disabilities taking decisions as full-fledged members".

IDE says that out of the 600 million people worldwide who live with disabilities, more than 400 million of them can be found in developing countries (including Malaysia).

These numbers, according to IDE, are expected to increase substantially in the future, as the general global population grows and the average lifespan continues to lengthen.

Last week's IDD celebrations were a timely opportunity for the world to take notice of such persons – disabled people who live in societies that have yet to make their environs barrier-free for them.

IDE's report includes Afghanistan where nearly 500 disability rights advocates in Kabul, it said, joined a procession demanding for more inclusion in Afghan society.

Another country, China, where one-third of the 30 million people who live below the poverty line have disabilities, reportedly used IDD to change and strengthen its rights to education, employment, information access, and recreation that exist in its 1990 disability law.

Maria Eagle, Britain's Minister for Disabled People, IDE adds, used the day to remind businesses that they should pay attention to the 10 million adults with disabilities in the country – with an estimated £80bil (RM580bil) in buying power – during the current holiday shopping season.

Leaving the international scene aside, Malaysia had its own unique celebration of IDD last Friday at Kuala Lumpur's Berjaya Times Square where hundreds of disabled Malaysians, supporters and government representatives turned up for half a day of events and happenings that concluded with a sumptuous lunch for the delighted participants.

Many local disability experts noted that the occasion, which was launched by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil was marked with greater participation from disabled persons than in previous years.

Instead of able-bodied masters of ceremonies to conduct the event, for instance, the packed hall featured emcees with disabilities, namely the blind and physically handicapped.

Wheelchair and deaf dancers enthralled the non-disabled and hearing audience. Special awards were given out to outstanding disabled persons to recognise their personal achievements with their disabilities.

The accolades were accompanied by generous and handsome money prizes – as well as for members of the corporate sector who took the effort and initiatives to make their buildings barrier free to people with disabilities.

"We could never dream of seeing such a thing like this happening 10 or 20 years ago," commented 40-something-year-old Law King Kiew from Kepong who was officially at the ceremonies to represent her beloved home state Sibu in Sarawak at the event.

"We discovered that we could park our disabled motorcycles and cars virtually anywhere we wanted to at the Times Square without any of the security kicking up a fuss about it," added Law who took part as a power lifter at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000.

Law sustained her spinal injury after a fatal fall in her hometown nearly 25 years ago. She has been using a wheelchair ever since.

"The security was actually very friendly to us, offering some of us to even re-park our handicapped motorcycles at a more suitable spot."

But the most noticeable and welcome change came when it was time to tuck into the delicious spread that was organised by the KL Social Welfare Department says Law.

"Although it was a buffet lunch, the JKM had kindly provided wheelchair users with a separate room to park our wheelchairs next to the dining table where we were served our food by waiters and waitresses instead of having to queue up as it happens at some functions when some hosts inadvertently forget about their disabled guests' needs.

"Then there are those odd situations when we have to juggle our plates and cups with both our hands and with no extra pair that is needed to push or manoeuvre our wheelchairs!" Law concludes with a laugh.

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