People with disabilities entitled to equal rights
Rokiah Mahmud

AS MEMBERS of society, people with disabilities (PWDs) are entitled to civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights on an equal basis with others.

In the context of Brunei Darussalam, the Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam is strongly committed in ensuring that matters related to PWDs, comprising 1.06 per cent of the Sultanate’s total population, are given high priority in national agendas.

These observations were made by Her Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah in a sabda during the launching of the 3rd Asean Disability Forum (ADF) at the Rizqun International Hotel in Gadong yesterday morning.

HRH emphasised that the well-being of PWDs needs to be more closely monitored and that there is a need to increase participation in private-public partnerships that encourage corporate social funds and safety nets.

“Brunei Darussalam has signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and is currently working towards its ratification. Currently, several policies and programmes are already in place,” HRH said.

For instance, financial assistance is extended to PWDs under the Old Age and Disability Pensions Act 1954, and micro-credit finance facilities are also available without the need for collateral or a guarantor, to those who wish to embark on income generating projects. Moreover, skills training and job attachments programmes are also provided.

In addition, home-based or community-based rehabilitation programmes are also provided for those who do not have the opportunity to undergo training at the specified training centres, particularly for those who live in rural areas.

In addition, supportive therapy is also extended to families with members who have disabilities in order to help them better understand how to deal with their loved ones disabilities and to alleviate unwarranted fears and anxieties regarding these disabilities.

According to HRH, Brunei Darussalam’s strong commitment is also reflected in the establishment of a Special Committee on Persons with Special Needs and the Elderly in 2008 under the purview of the National Council on Social Issues.

The committee has formulated a National Plan of Action on Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly to promote and protect their rights and to enhance their full participation and inclusive development in society. These efforts are also complemented by the private sector and non-governmental organisations in the country.

HRH also applauded the establishment of the Brunei Disability Council, which is a significant step towards ensuring and promoting the rights of PWDs in this country.

Meanwhile, on the regional front, HRH noted that Asean has developed various strategies and programmes to promote and protect the rights of PWDs. For instance, the Asean Ministerial Meeting on Social Welfare and Development (AMMSWD) in Brunei Darussalam in November 2010 has endorsed the second strategic framework for social welfare and development for 2011-2015.

“The Strategic Framework includes a specific chapter that focuses on Asean’s work in promoting and improving the welfare of persons with disabilities, with activities that aimed to promote network collaboration, inclusive for PWDs in Asean member states,” HRH said.

HRH noted that during the 19th Asean Summit that was held in Bali in December 2011, the leaders adopted the Bali Declaration on the Enhancement of the role and participation of the PWDs in Asean Community.

With the declaration, it provides wide ranging support for the rights of PWDs and encourages Asean member states to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and foster its implementation in their communities, whilst also proclaiming the Asean Decade of Persons with Disabilities (2011-2020) and its related activities as the theme to promote disability-inclusive development within Asean.

“I also welcome the establishment of The Asean Disability Forum in 2011, which advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities and is growing stronger, with its development efforts reaching out to those who have been excluded for too long,” HRH said. “Whilst we appear to have achieved much progress, more still needs to be done to ensure that PWDs can enjoy their rights.”

Earlier, HRH noted that about 15 per cent of the world population live with some form of disability of whom two to four per cent are experiencing significant difficulties in their daily life, according to the World Health Organization.

HRH said: “This means that over one billion people around the world have a disability, and this number is on the rise partly due to aging populations and rapid increases in chronic non-communicable disease, and other environmental and human-inflicted factors.

“Nonetheless, we continue to see unfortunate disparities in attitudes towards persons with disabilities, where social stigmas and discrimination, frequently deny PWDs access to basic rights such to education, employment and health services.

“More often than not, PWDs are among the poorest of the poor and this has been reflected in findings by the World Bank, which shows that PWDs, on average, are poorer than persons without disabilities and have lesser levels of education, worse health conditions, fewer employment opportunities and higher poverty rates.

“Poverty and disability have proven to function together in a vicious cycle with each exacerbating the debilitating effects of the other due to poor living conditions, malnutrition and lack of access to healthcare and education.

“With these factors in mind, the theme for this year’s forum ‘Reduce Poverty and Enhance Employment Prospects’, is therefore most relevant and timely, in our efforts to reduce poverty among persons with disabilities and to enhance their employment prospects.”

These efforts, HRH added, require a comprehensive spectrum of activities and programmes, ranging from promoting and protecting basic rights to improve access to basic services including the removal of barriers that prevent access to these services.

“Focus should also be given to promoting community-based support services that address the needs of households with members with disabilities and assist their family units in ensuring that they have productive employment and financial independence,” said HRH. - Borneo Bulletin (12 December 2013)