KUALA LUMPUR: The findings of a comprehensive study by Unicef Malaysia into children with disabilities will be released by the end of this year, said Unicef Senior Child Protection specialist Phenny Kakama.
“A study is currently underway to understand the knowledge, attitudes and practices within communities regarding children with disabilities in Malaysia. We are looking at a release date in September or October this year,” said Kakama.
Kakama, who spoke to The Star Online at the Unicef Malaysia offices here, said the study will focus on understanding the knowledge, attitudes and practices within communities regarding children with disabilities in Malaysia.
The study is taking place in Selangor, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak.
“The 2016 study will provide much more information that will give us a better understanding of the nature and patterns of discrimination and stigma. We will be able to know what is driving the discrimination in a much more concrete way,” he said.
Kakama explained Unicef Malaysia’s reasoning for conducting such a study.
“Without data, you cannot show the magnitude of the problem, where the gaps are and what needs to be improved. So what we are trying to do is to collect the evidence about the situation and collect the evidence about the magnitude of the problems faced,” he said.
He spoke of a 2012 study done by Unicef Malaysia on children with disabilities, saying that it looked at some of the issues, the services, the policies and the stakeholders.
“We were able to show situations faced by children with disabilities, the issues and what needed to be addressed,” he said.
Kakama said that presently, the top challenge faced by children with disabilities comes from exclusion.
“What is meant by that is that they don’t have equal access to facilities, services and opportunities like other children,” he said.
He added that many people in Malaysia think children with disabilities are inferior or lesser in terms of capacity, in terms of abilities and that is taken for granted.
“The result of that is that many people do not attempt to provide these children with the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities, which they could if they were supported,” said Kakama.
Kakama added that the 2012 study found that only 1% of all children with disabilities in Malaysia were in the public school system, whether in inclusive education or special needs education.
“So you can imagine, where are the other children? Are they being hidden in the home, away from school? Where were the other 99%,”he said.
Similar views were shared by Unicef Malaysia disability consultant Zoe Gan, who said that raw data was needed on the challenges faced by children with disabilities and their real needs to help them overcome these challenges.
“We also need data on where are they struggling in terms of being included, where are the barriers of exclusion. We have a lot of anecdotal information but we need the real hard statistics,” said Gan.
She said that an example of this discrimination could be seen in the challenges faced by children with physical disabilities.
“Discrimination can and does happen on a daily basis in terms of access to things that able-bodied people take for granted.
“If you want to get into a school or go to the supermarket or the doctor – doing that can be almost impossible for a wheelchair user in Malaysia and Malaysia doesn’t have a process of approaching all buildings from a perspective of universal design based on equal access for all,” she said.
Gan also said that the approach to helping children with disabilities has to change from a charity or medical model to an approach that focuses on their rights as children.
“There is an old way of perceiving disabilities, which is the charity or medical model where you want to give them something in a charitable way to make their life better or from the medical perspective, you want to do something to them to ‘fix’ them.
“However it is quite derogatory to think this, and we want to move from this towards a rights-based approach,” said Gan.