On 10 May 2018, the historic outcome of the 14th general election (GE14) in Malaysia enabled a new coalition of political parties to replace the government which had been in power for the past 61 years since Malaysia’s independence from British colonialism. That outcome has generated a new optimism among ordinary citizens and given rise to new expression of aspirations for positive change.
A grassroot movement to ‘make the right real’ soon emerged, with the issuance of an open letter to the Prime Minister seeking the establishment of a Commission for Disability Inclusion and the enactment of a Disability Discrimination Act for the enforcement of the rights of persons with disabilities in Malaysia. This movement is aptly named Harapan OKU (Hope of Persons with Disabilities). The following is a record of how the story is unravelling:
- Harapan OKU came into existence on 26 May 2018, when more than 20 members of the community of persons with disabilities (PwDs) met to discuss the way forward for PwDs in post-GE14 Malaysia. The 26 May group was composed of activists, both veterans and young persons, as well as academics and professionals. All are learning from one another, with new alliances being formed, and an urgency to freshen interest in deepening knowledge and honing skills to achieve the common goals specified in the abovementioned Open Letter. Social media is utilized. Subject-specific WhatsApp groups represent the coming together of persons with disabilities and their supporters. Via these and Google group, everyone is learning from one another.
Such collaboration is unprecedented and uncharted territory. It requires an open-minded willingness to take into consideration a range of views, priorities and approaches. It also demands a humility for learning how to be accommodating with others, especially in respecting the need for cross-disability understanding. These essential elements for terms of engagement became increasingly evident as the coalition evolved, to facilitate effective engagement and communication within the coalition and for interaction with politicians and the general public. Mistakes were made, rectified, reflected upon, with their lessons learned. There is keen interest in continuous learning from experiences elsewhere, to inform striving for progress.
- Harapan OKU has two interrelated goals:
- Replace the 10-year-old Persons with Disabilities Act with a Disability Discrimination Act (DDA);
- Establish a Disability Inclusion Commission to implement the DDA. These twin goals are crucial to fighting systemic discrimination, seeking compensation for personal grievances and complaints of PwDs, as also upholding the rights of PwDs.
The existing PwD Act 2008 has not served to uphold the rights and dignity of PwD because it is ‘toothless.’ There is a lack of enforcement and implementation of acts and policies. For example, according to the Streets, Drainage and Building Act 1984 (UBBL34A), it should be mandatory for old buildings that are to be renovated to be made accessible compliant in most states since 1994. However, this is ignored with impunity. There is no compulsion to implement it and there are no penalties to enforce the mandate. Such lack of enforcement can only be due to the fact that the PwD Act 2008 is not equipped to deal with enforcement. It is also lacking on ease of execution that could deal with complex problems.
Realizing full well that the road to achieving the two goals is strewn with challenges, the movement has tried to be strategic, informed and motivated from the outset. Harapan OKU made its public debut with a rally and press conference on 1 July 2018. The venue was the oldest public recreational park in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur.
Given the many obstacles that had to be overcome, media coverage and the participation of media professionals at the 1 July rally was encouraging.
On 9 July 2018, a delegation of Harapan OKU members, representing diverse disability groups, met with the Deputy Prime Minister to inform her of the issues faced by PwDs in Malaysia, and Harapan OKU's vision of what the new government must urgently do to speedily address the dire situation. As of 9 July, 122 organizations had joined as signatories to the Open Letter to the Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister also serves the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. At the 9 July meeting, the Harapan OKU delegation also met with the Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development who requested time to look into the issues presented.
On the same day, 9 July, another Harapan OKU delegation met with the Commissioner for Equal Opportunities in Hong Kong, China, and civil society leaders to learn from Hong Kong's experiences, insights and lessons for consideration and possible adaptation to the Malaysian context.
The next step is to meet with the new Education Minister, to discuss and formulate an action plan on how to improve the education for all PwDs, irrespective of socioeconomic background and age, and with particular attention to gender equality.
Harapan OKU shall strive on to fight for the rights of persons with disabilities in Malaysia.