by Md. Rashid bin Ismail
Director, Rehabilitation Division,
Department of Social Welfare, Malaysia
1.1 Before the Second World War, services for the disabled in Malaysia were undertaken by missionary and voluntary organizations and the programmes were of protection and custodial in nature. Rehabilitation of the disabled as such appeared after the Second World War, as a result of rapid social and economic change and improvements in the health and medical care. The awareness and interest in rehabilitation programmes started in Malaysia in the early 20th. Century.
1.2 Since then, Malaysia is committed to the concept of "total rehabilitation" which entails a multi-disciplinary approach. This includes medical, social and vocational rehabilitation. Collaborative efforts at that time were restricted to four major ministries, namely, the Ministry of Social Welfare.(now known as the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development), the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Manpower (now known as the Ministry of Human Resources) and voluntary organizations. The thrust of disability policies and programmes was towards the integration of the disabled minority into the non-disabled majority. There was a conscious trend towards deinstitutionalization and working towards normalization of the disabled.
General background on national policies
1.3 The International Year of the Disabled Persons in 1980 followed by the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons in 1982, saw the country moving ahead with various policies and programmes designed to improve the quality of life of the disabled population. Community participation and involvement begin to gain credence as the community was deemed to be able to play an active part in the reintegration of marginalized groups back into society. The Government began to propagate a policy of making "Welfare a Shared Responsibility".
1.4 Like other developing countries, Malaysia, since achieving independence (1957), has been committed with both economic growth, as well as the human aspects of development. Malaysia formulated its National Welfare Policy in 1990 with the ultimate objectives of ensuring a secure and stable society for the nation's progress. This is in line with Malaysia's Vision 2020 which aspires to attain the status of a fully developed nation in the next two decade but with equal emphasis on enhancing the well-being and social stability of the people and the establishment of a fully Caring Society. Malaysia's policies and programmes for the disabled citizens of the country are guided by the strategic goals of the National Welfare Policy which emphasized on the attainment of self-reliance, equalization of opportunities for the less fortunate and fostering the spirit of mutual help and support towards enhancing the caring culture.
1.5 Malaysia's current buoyant economic growth offers an opportune moment to redress issues related to the quantitative upliftment of the socio-economic status of its population that includes people with disabilities. Being a nation with a vision of achieving an economically self-reliant and caring society by the year 2020, Malaysia thrust into the future in one of the coordinated effort based on the multi-sectoral collaboration on various plans, strategies, programmes and activities which has always been trademarks of progress in this country as manifested through her past development plans. It is therefore not unusual for the country to readily adopt the multi-sectoral collaborative action as an approach in delivering the necessary and relevant services to the disabled population in the country.
1.6 Malaysia's commitment at improving the quality of life among its disabled population is further ensured through the signing of the Proclamation on Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asia and Pacific Region on May 16, 1994. The signing of the Proclamation provides fresh impetus to the meeting of the Agenda for Action for the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1993-2002) covering 12 major areas of concern.
1.7 So far, there is no specific legislation concerning the disabled persons in Malaysia, but there are "piece-meal" legislations involving the rights of the disabled. Constitutionally, a disabled person may claim his rights under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality to all persons unless conditions expressly authorized by the Constitution. Under the Advisory and Consultative Council, a Technical Working Group (TWG) on Legislation was formed. The TWG has drafted the Disabled Persons Act 2002 and had submitted to the Council for endorsement. The draft of the Act will be discussed further with relevant agencies and NGOs before being tabled to the Parliament. The TWG was also given the task to review the existing legislations to ensure that no provisions for discrimination in whatever form or one that may lead to barriers for persons with disabilities to gain full participation and equal opportunities. The objectives of the Act are:-
- To ensure that persons with disabilities in Malaysia have the same rights to equality before the law as the rest of the community in the country.
- To eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against persons on the ground of disability in various areas of life,
- To promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the principle that persons with disabilities be afforded equal opportunities and full participation to enable them to live as a rightful citizen of the country.
Overview of the national situation
1.9 On February 25, 1998, the Cabinet had approved on the establishment of the National Coordinating Body known as the National Advisory and Consultative Council for People with Disabilities to replace the National Implementation Committee for the Well-being of the Disabled, which was formed on August 30, 1990. The Council is chaired by the Hon. Minister of National Unity and Social Development and is comprised by the various related government agencies, NGOs, private sectors and interested individuals. The main function of this Council is the coordination and implementation of the Agenda of Action for the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons. The Council functions, though advisory in nature, will constitute a platform for the collaboration and coordination among various ministries, departments and NGOs. For the purpose of implementation of the Agenda of Action, the Council has established twelve (12) Technical Working Groups (TWGs) based on the twelve "Areas of Concern". Each of these TWG is headed by either the Secretary-General of the relevant ministry or by the disabled persons themselves. The Council also has requested all State Government to establish a State Advisory and Consultative Council for purpose of implementation of the Agenda of Action. In principle, the Council has agreed on the adoption of the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific (2003 - 2012) and will translate the seven areas for priority action into a National Plan of Action.
1.10 Under the Eight Malaysia Plan, the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development with the collaboration of the National Information Technology Council (NITC) is planning to establish a national database on disability related matters through "the Bridging the Digital Divide Project". The Ministry is also in the process of developing a comprehensive Data base relating to disability matters.
1.11 Public awareness on issues concerning people with disabilities has increased significantly as a result of various programmes carried out by the government and private media. Promotion like seminars, workshops, campaigns, etc. will continue to be held to draw public awareness on issues relating to disabilities and also to sensitize the service providers. These programmes are being carried out in conjunction with the celebration of the National Day of the Disabled which all Malaysian celebrate every 3 December each year.
1.12 The major breakthrough and the first step taken toward overcoming the environmental and structural barriers was the gazzetment of the amendments to the Building By-Laws 1984 under the Street, Drainage and Buildings Act 1974. Three Malaysian Standards Codes of Practice on the accessibility and mobility for people with disabilities were introduced between 1990 and 1993:-
- MS 1184:1991, Code of Practice for Access for Disabled Persons To Public Buildings,
- MS 1183:1990, Code of Practice for Means of Escape for Disabled Persons,
- MS 1331:1993, Code of Practice for Access for Disabled Persons Outside Buildings.
The Local Authorities will include these conditions as a prerequisite for the approval for building plans submission for the approval of new buildings.
1.13 The Education Act 1961 provides that the Ministry of Education may establish and maintain special schools which provides special education for children with special needs. The Ministry is progressively establishing Integration Programmes in new mainstream schools at the primary and secondary levels to cater for the needs of special children. These programmes hopefully would encourage parents of children with special needs to maintain their children in formal education. Beside Integration Programmes in normal mainstream schools, the Ministry has also initiated Integrated Programmes in secondary technical/vocational schools and polytechnics for pupils with hearing impairments, and also established full Inclusion Programme for children with learning disabilities in secondary technical/vocational schools. The Ministry has also established Early Intervention Programme (age 5+) in special education schools for children with hearing impairment and visual impairment in 1999. There are 19 special education schools with early intervention programmes with 76 pupils. The Ministry, through Teachers' Training Colleges, universities and other training schemes, provides professional training for teachers involved in special education. As of 1995, components of special education were incorporated into the pre-service teachers' training curriculum for semester 4 of the Diploma Graduate Course. Thus, all graduate teachers trained after 1995 would have some background knowledge on special education.
1.14 The Malaysian Government had launched and implemented awareness campaigns to increase job opportunities for disabled persons. From the years 1990 until 2001, a total of 4,017 disabled persons were registered with the Labour Department and out of that a total of 2,529 of them were placed in employment in various sector of employment. On November 9, 2001, the Ministry of Human Resources has introduced the Code of Practice of Employment of Disabled Persons in Private Sector.
1.15 The Ministry of Health have initiated a number of comprehensive programmes providing anti-natal and pre-natal care and have carried out the disability prevention programmes such as the National Programme for the Prevention of Blindness, The National Iodine Deficiency Prevention Programme, etc. Early intervention programmes for children with disabilities with provision for the active involvement of their families in rural and urban areas has been implemented. Improvement of access to rehabilitation services was identified as one of the priority areas in the Seventh Malaysia Plan (2001 - 2005). Basic rehabilitation services will be made available in all Health Clinics. Currently there are 72 Health Clinics providing rehabilitation services for children with special needs and 180 clinics providing rehabilitation services for the elderly. The National Health Morbidity Survey 11 carried out in 1995, included questions related to disability, to obtain data on prevalence of physical disability, blindness and deafness. In 1996-1997, the Prevalence Study on Blindness was carried out to acquire data for the prevention and control of blindness programme.
1.16 In line with the global trend, Community-based Rehabilitation is being given greater emphasis in Malaysia thereby providing rehabilitation facilities at the local community level itself rather than depending on traditional institutionalized rehabilitation concept. The government is fully committed to increase and improve the CBR programmes which are expected to cover the entire country over the years. Up till now, some 274 centres providing services for 5,768 children are in operation and this figure is expected to increase manifold in the years to come. Malaysia's has embarked on a community-based programme to cater the needs of the disabled persons in the rural areas since 1983. Community-based Rehabilitation is not only an evenue for rural disabled to have access to rehabilitation but it is also seen as an entry point for the development of the community as a whole special focus on the disabled themselves. Through the various programmes implemented and with the adoption of the multi-sectoral collaboration approach, the CBR programme has the potential to further enhance the active participation of the disabled themselves in the programme. Efforts to increase the level of participation from mere participation of the rehabilitation programme to care workers, trainers and community members will be given priority. The Government has provided an allocation amounting to RM 4.2 million for the continued running of the programme. Besides financial grant to help subsidized the costs of operations of the CBR centers, additional financial assistance was given for the upgrading of facilities and purchases of rehabilitation aids. The total allocation for this purpose was more than RM 2.4 million involving 92 CBR centers. The CBR programme will continue to be given priority and emphasis as it has proven to be an effective grass-root mechanism for increasing awareness and participation of the community on disability issues as well as enhancing the quality of life of the disabled themselves towards independent living, especially in the rural areas, who otherwise would be marginalized.
1.17 The Department of Social Welfare has provided fund to purchase devices such as orthopaedic appliances, hearing aids, wheelchairs, etc. for those who need the devices and cannot afford to but, or otherwise to poor groups. Besides this, the National Welfare Foundation also has a special fund to help people with disabilities to buy motorized tricycles and other assistive devices. Imported products or appliances for the usage of the disabled persons are tax exempted. Deduction of 50% on the excise duty is given to the physically disabled persons for the purchase of the national cars and motorcycles.
Review and analysis of issues and trends in rights based approaches to development; success indicators identified and description of further action envisaged
1.18 With increased awareness and the implementation of various services and programmes as well as facilities and special provisions to facilitate full participation and equality, more self-help organizations have been formed which covers various disabilities and functions such as the physically disabled, spinal injuries, the little people, the blind, the deaf and sports related self-help organizations such Wheelchair Tennis. The increase in the establishment of self-help organizations reflect the higher level of awareness and confidence of people with disabilities to come together collectively to voice their concerns and their specific needs for their betterment.
1.19 Currently, Malaysia is moving into an industrialized country status as reflected in her 8th. Malaysia Plan, which also places emphasis of social development programmes, particularly, in creating a civil society that stresses on the shared responsibility among its multi-ethnic population. To redress social issues which, in this case, also includes the improved facilities and living conditions among the unfortunate groups of the population as a prerequisite to the nation building process, individuals, families, community, existing social institutions and relevant government departments, ministries, and agencies as well as the private sectors and the NGOs are partners and given equal responsibilities in the effective delivery of the services to the disabled population.
1.20 Programmes for the care of the disabled continued to be implemented and further strengthened during the Plan period. In an effort to undertake a more comprehensive approach to the planning of programmes for the disabled, campaigns were organized to educate and increase awareness on the need to register the disabled with the Government. As a result, a total of 107,831 (as of June 2002) disabled persons was registered with the Department of Social Welfare. To ensure the provision of education for children with special needs, in particular with visual and hearing impairment or with learning disabilities, the Education Act 1996 required the Ministry of Education to provide schools for these children. Towards this end, a total of five schools benefiting about 2,700 students were constructed the Plan period. In addition, to enable children with special needs to be taught in a normal school environment, a total of 1,766 classes were provided benefiting about 12,230 children.
1.21 Programmes to integrate the disabled into society and enable them to lead a normal life will be further intensified. To allow for proper planning of programmes and facilities for the disabled, a database of all the disabled in the country will be established. In order to provide the necessary training and rehabilitation for the disabled, the Government will ensure the adequate supply of trained manpower in areas such as physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists. Efforts will also be undertaken to identify children with disabilities at the pre-school and primary level to ensure that appropriate treatment and care is provided early. To enable the disabled to be economically independent, training on a residential and non-residential basis, will continue to be provided at various institutions in the country.
Good practices on the synergy among various stakeholders
1.22 Malaysia has gone a long way in the area of prevention, rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities for the disabled in consonant with the global movement. It was through the farsightedness of the Malaysian Government in balancing industrialization and economic advancement with humanistic and moralistic values, the concept of a "caring society" was evolved. With this, the disabled are beginning to be recognized by the society. This underlying caring philosophy has become the focus for the many governmental and public measures, policies, planning and legislation.
1.23 It must be emphasized that efforts towards strengthening and enhancing the various programmes and services for the disabled were undertaken jointly by the government and the numerous voluntary organizations catering for the different categories of the disabled.
1.24 Although much has been achieved in the last decade, there is still much more that needs to be done. Due consideration must be given to facilitate meaningful participation and equal opportunities for the disabled persons in contributing towards the nation building process and the development of the economy with a human face. It is hoped that the National Welfare Policy and the Malaysia's Vision of establishing a "Caring and Sharing Society" through the coordinated efforts involving government agencies, voluntary organizations and the society at large would enable the disabled community to enjoy the same rights and privileges as any normal citizen of the country.