By Effah Syafiqah (YES 2017-2018, Malaysia, hosted with ACIE in CA)
Last month I attended a three-day workshop, Selangor PWD Youth Transformation Camp, to provide Malaysian youth with disabilities with advocacy and project management skills. There were 30 participants with different disabilities (hearing impaired, physical impaired, learning disability and many more) from all around Malaysia.
Throughout the weekend, we learned so many things regarding issues surrounding people with disabilities (PWD) in Malaysia and ways to address these issues focusing on project planning and advocacy. When we first arrived at the camp, we were broken into 5 groups with each group named after a favorite Malaysian dish; Lontong, Rojak, Asam Laksa, Mee Kolok and Kari Kepala Ikan. We received project management and impact measurement skills and were required to plan a PWD advocacy project to be presented at the end of the camp. Two grants by Impact Malaysia were allocated for the two best group projects and my group was one of the winning teams.
We gained skills on effective advocacy strategy, learned about public relations and understanding disabilities, inclusivity and human rights in more depth. We also touched on the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 (Akta OKU 2008), Incheon Strategy and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities and Optional Protocol (CPRD) to get an idea about actions that can be taken to empower PWD. During one of the advocacy sessions, we were required to plan a strategy and do a role-play of issues and problems faced by persons with disabilities at their workplace or academic institutions. One of the issues that happened (and is currently still happening) is the lack of appropriate facilities for PWD; no ramps for wheelchair users, broken tactile walk, and discrimination among classmates and work colleagues. All in all, a 3 day camp wasn’t nearly enough time for me. I am looking forward to more refinement workshops or camps like this in the future.
There are a few things that able-bodied persons can do to advocate or support people with disabilities: Do not use people with disabilities as your inspiration – we may be different physically, but it does not mean we are less in any way. Do not view people with disabilities aids as a device – respect our aids; do not pet our guide dog without permission or stand or park on the tactile walk. Understand that a person’s disability does not define them, but it might be an important part of her identity – only refer to our disabilities when it is necessary. Never put low expectations on someone with disabilities – we may have a few physical hindrances but we might be able to do something better than you. Do not be afraid of disabilities – confront your discomfort; your fear of asking questions about disabilities won’t help you open your mind. We would love to share our views as well.
Awareness won’t spread by itself and to change a society, one must change themselves first.
This article was originally published on the YES Malaysia alumni blog.