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Thursday January 31, 2008

Why the silence?



The Deaf community hopes that RapidKL will review its policy on disabled commuters.

AT THE start of this month, RapidKL and the LRT introduced a new policy for handicapped commuters who wish to apply for special travel cards to enjoy discounted fares.

Previously the bus company would accept anyone who produced an identification card issued by the Welfare Department (JKM) confirming their disability. (Incidentally, JKM confirmations are done professionally. It requires a full medical diagnosis from a government hospital doctor to confirm a person's permanent disability.)

However, now RapidKL is saying "No." JKM cards are apparently not good enough for them anymore.

A new requirement insists that applicants have to become members of any one of five stipulated disability organisations listed with RapidKL in order to obtain the travel cards.

This means that disabled commuters will have extra (and unnecessary) costs to bear. These include annual membership fees of the respective societies plus yearly renewals, and the processing fees for the cards.

This latest red tape is upsetting many Deaf and disabled Malaysians in the Klang Valley.

"I am a member of the YMCA's Deaf Club which has been in existence for 35 years with 1,600 members," a Deaf young man e-mailed me last week. "Why should I be forced to become a member of the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD), which is only 10 years old, under RapidKL's list?"

It would mean he has to cough up RM20 annually for MFD membership fees when he already has a JKM card confirming his deaf status. He said everyone should be given a choice, especially in a democratic nation like Malaysia.

He has a point, especially when you consider that the Deaf still face various forms of discrimination in our society. Many of them struggle to get into the workforce. This is because most employers find it easier to hire a hearing person as they do not have to deal with provisions for the Deaf in their workplace.

The Deaf do not enjoy equal opportunities like their hearing counterparts. Their salaries frequently do not commensurate with their qualifications.

It is also quite costly to be a Deaf Malaysian, if you happen to rely on hearing aids to help you integrate into society. These gizmos can cost up to RM8,000 for each ear.

Another organisation for the hearing impaired, the Society for the Interpreters of the Deaf (SID), which has worked with thousands of Deaf people since it was formed in 1990, is also against giving disabled NGOs monopoly over such matters.

"The JKM card should be the only necessary validation," says Rose Ng of SID. "It has proven to be successful and is well received by all." She explained that the JKM card is currently being used by the disabled to get 100% discounts for passports and road taxes as well as further concessions in government hospitals and for air fares. A top official from JKM concurred with Ng's views.

SID has been trying to discuss this matter with RapidKL since August 2005, but has not met with any success.

Last June, SID submitted 134 applications of Deaf persons waiting to use the buses and LRT to RapidKL but did not receive any reply. They have followed up with several letters, too. With the dawn of the new lunar year, all the applicants – along with scores of Deaf Malaysians who have yet to apply – are keeping their fingers crossed. Let's hope there is a change of heart on the part of RapidKL

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