I was required to write a 500-word feature story for one of my assignments and I decided to revisit a chapter from my unpublished draft book entitled “Do you hear them when they cry?”. The book centers around 12 people from marginalised communities in Malaysia who have been sidelined by society. It aims to get their (often ignored and silenced) voices heard by the Malaysians.
Mohd Hazrin Razali is a 25-year old jobless man. For half of his life he has been struggling to ‘stand’ tall among his friends, family and society. His hobbies are just like most Malaysian men. He likes playing sports, watching movies, playing arcade games, crooning at elegant, sporty cars that pass by, chit chatting with women and many more. But instead, he is locked up in his 600 sq ft flat sitting and watching television all day. Hazrin is what society calls a ‘disabled’ person.
On 12 December, last year, Malaysia’s Bar Council Human Rights Committee held a forum that focused on the rights of persons with disabilities. It was held in conjunction with Human Rights Day. Hazrin was keen to share insights on how it is like for wheelchair users like him to live in a country like Malaysia.
“Often times, I don’t see the point of celebrating occasions like this (Human Rights Day) even when the focus is on ‘disabled’ people like me,” he cringed as he spoke the word ‘disabled’. Hazrin explained earlier on that he prefers to use the term “physically-impaired” instead of disabled.
“Although I am physically-impaired I see myself as a perfectly-able man. I am able to eat, move, talk, wash, all on my own – provided that there are suitable structures built for wheelchair users like me.”
At the age of 14, Hazrin sustained severe neck injuries during a football practice at school. As a result of that, doctors told him that he will be paralysed from his chest down and is wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. Two weeks after, he had to leave school as it was impossible for him to continue his education in his condition.
“They told me that boys in wheelchairs will not be able to keep up with school especially when the classes are all only accessible by staircases,” he said. Since then, Hazrin said he has been sidelined by society.
“I am in constant struggle to get a job as most employees think that I am a burden if they hire me. Even when I am offered a job, it is almost impossible for me to go to work as wheelchair-friendly transportation services are often scarce or located far away.”
Hazrin cites experiences where taxi drivers have charged him exorbitant fares because they know that he has no other choice of transportations. He shrugs when asked about the Government’s effort at providing wheelchair-friendly busses and trains.
“Even if I see a wheelchair-friendly bus, it will rarely stop to take me in as a passenger. Bus drivers, like most people, think we are an inconvenience to them. Society has long forgotten that a physically impaired human being is still a human being. We are not excluded from the right to live – and by that I mean a dignified life. We are treated like an outcast in our own country.”
“I may be physically-impaired but I am perfectly able!,” he remarks adding that he is able to learn study, work and earn his own living if only he is given a chance.
As we close the conversation, he spoke these words with a hint of frustration in his voice: “Society’s perception and structure are those that disable a man – not his physical impairment. If only we can change that perception, I believe that it would be a giant step towards creating equal opportunity for perfectly-able men like me.”