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Bridging the divide

Izah Azahari

“Inclusion” has often been associated with persons with different abilities. However, whether or not people understand what the word truly means is an entirely different matter.

This was highlighted by Chief Executive Officer and Vice President I of Society for the Management of Autism Related issues in Training, Education and Resources (SMARTER) Brunei Malai Adila Surya binti Malai Haji Abdullah while moderating the World Autism Awareness Day 2022 Forum on April 5.

Acting Head of the People with Different Abilities Division at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) Dayangku Dewi Kartika Putri binti Pengiran Shahminan; Acting Deputy Head of the Special Education Department at the Ministry of Education Norali bin Ali Yusop; a SMARTER Brunei parent Malai Ayla Surya binti Malai Haji Abdullah; as well as Founder of Pathways Lifeskills Enrichment Services Norhaslinda Ibrahim joined the forum as panellists.

With the Sultanate is entering the Endemic Phase, Malai Adila Surya raised the question of how the community can help the government to ensuring the well-being of everyone.

The 2020 World Health Organization (WHO) Disability Considerations Report outlined a number of aspects that governments should take into consideration, including: ensuring public health reformation and communication is accessible; undertaking targetted measures for persons with different abilities and their support networks, and disability service providers in the community; addressing the higher risks of persons in institutional settings and correctional facilities; and ensuring that any planning of measures include persons with disabilities.

Panellists in discussion during the forum. PHOTO: IZAH AZAHARI

In Brunei Darussalam, people with different abilities (OKU) receive great support from the government, which is evident with the recent adoption of the Persons with Disabilities Order, 2021.

As inclusion works both ways, forum panellists agreed that it requires effort from both the OKU and the environment they are in, be it the family, social groups or professional life.

They also acknowledged that OKU are also persons with different abilities, thus it is of utmost importance to provide them with equal access and resources by focussing on what they are best at in order to accumulate a better quality of life.

With this, the Persons with Disabilities Order 2021 was a prime step towards cementing the inclusion movement in the Sultanate, which include the introduction of the national definition of OKU based on Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), including physical, mental, intellectual or sensory alongside behavioural, communication and developmental; and the introduction of OKU registration in the country that will generate a National Register of OKU for the first time, as well as the introduction of an OKU card.

So far, 1,695 applications have been received, of which 138 OKU are registered under the National Register of OKU.

One of the key aspects of the order is that it has made the abuse and neglect of the OKU a crime punishable by law.

Among other things, the recent amendments on the Old Age Pensions and Disability Allowances 2021 have also promoted inclusion for elderly OKU to receive old age pensions and disability allowances, along with the introduction of the care provider allowance to ensure the proper care of the OKU.

A Special Committee on Persons with Different Abilities and the Elderly has also recently revised the National Plan of Action on Disability Issues for 2021-2024, and on the policy sphere, the National Plan of Action is key to charting disability-based development such as employment of the OKU.

Currently, 125 OKU are registered under JobCentre Brunei, where 49 are employed and 21 are actively seeking jobs.

Over 100 OKU are also employed in both the public and private sectors, and this is one of the key areas that is hoped to increase in the trend of OKU inclusion.

Although there are recently-introduced orders and amended acts, panel members agreed that the process of inclusion is not something that can happen overnight as it takes time and a lot of resources.

It was also highlighted that this would involve a change of attitude towards accepting the concept of difference in terms of being able to see someone who is different or has a disability as part of human diversity, and not as part of human deficiency.

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