A senior social affairs ministry official has urged all public and private institutions to gain a greater understanding and awareness of the capacities of people with disabilities, while also encouraging the construction of more physical infrastructure to help them in order to promote equality and their rights to participate fully in society.
Em Chan Makara – secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation who also serves as secretary-general of the Disability Action Council – made the call during a May 30 training seminar for the second-generation of national trainers on the subject of facilitating access to physical infrastructure.
He underscored the importance of ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities in order to respect human rights and the principle of equality of opportunity by assisting them with finding ways to showcase their talents and helping them find jobs that are suited to their capacities.
He said people with disabilities add diversity to their communities and that anyone could – at any time and through no fault of their own – become disabled. Therefore, it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that people with disabilities are integrated into their communities and welcomed so they have the opportunity to make friends and have access to the same opportunities as anyone else.
However, Chan Makara stated that failure to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities will inevitably result in the loss of their talents and a major untapped source of labour as there are many jobs in a modern economy that can be done to the highest standards by a person with a disability with just a few simple accommodations such as infrastructure like wheelchair ramps.
“Society’s rejection of hiring people with disabilities or giving them job opportunities, education or other access to other services is not only unfair to them, but it also overlooks valuable human resources and deprives society of them,” he said. “Many disabled people already have hard lives compared to able-bodied ones. As people who are all living in a society together, it is our moral duty to help those in need of assistance.”
He emphasised that the construction of infrastructure for disabled people is an important step to take to remedy their exclusion from Cambodian society, adding that the construction of ramps must use standard slopes, bathrooms must be built with a support on each side of the toilets to grip and more parking lots with disability access features must be built – all of which has to be done to a high technical standard.
He called on all ministries, institutions and those in the private sector to ask for help from the social affairs ministry on this topic if they require it or to discuss the issue with disabled people, who know what they need and can contribute ideas to develop future projects.
Chan Makara also said that over the last few years, the issue of equality and access for those with disabilities has become more prominent and a lot of progress has been made such as adding ramps to some commune buildings, providing rehabilitation services, vocational education and other job training, making newly constructed buildings more accessible and giving more resources to the National Disability Rehabilitation Centre.
Mak Monika, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation, said the May 30 training seminar was a good platform to encourage public and private institutions to consider providing disabled people with better access through infrastructure improvements.
“All public and private establishments must consider providing disabled people with accessibility. For example, the construction of new buildings should all be required to consider the needs of disabled people, as should all new construction of public places like hospitals, bathrooms, parking lots and so on,” she said.
Monika said she had observed that in recent years, the plight of the those with disabilities had improved considerably as awareness of this issue has spread and old attitudes and stereotypes about people with disabilities have been recognised as backwards and offensive. Along with the change in attitudes, there have been gradual advances in areas like jobs and infrastructure, she said.
The government previously made public its proposed strategy to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The inter-ministerial planning takes into account the provision of accessibility for people with disabilities, including improvements to physical infrastructure and equipment, public transport, communications and knowledge and information technology systems and other services.