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A Story of Helping the Disabled in Malaysia

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This post was written by Marybeth Ramey

As a country with all the necessary resources to help parents cope with a disabled child, Malaysia should not be avoided by such families. KL-based advocate for the disabled, Dr. Jason Cheong, sits down with Marybeth Ramey and explains why.

I’ve known Dr. Jason Cheong for over a dozen years as he is our family dentist in Bangsar. In fact, he was the only dentist I could ever find who would agree to work on my teenage son who had a disability. Last summer, I needed a specific type of physical therapist and had spent months trying to find one who would also agree to come to my home. I contacted Dr. Jason and, by the next day, he had given me the name of the therapist I employ to this day, a person who has literally transformed my physical condition.

In addition, when I could not find an appropriate three-wheeled walker to continue my treatment, Dr. Jason came to my office, despite of it being in the middle of his busy day, and modified the walker I had been using into the one I needed. Rarely have I been so impressed and appreciative of someone. Especially considering that he has a thriving dental clinic, three children under eight years old, many hobbies and yet finds the time to be a leader in this area for the disabled and people who have special needs. He sat down with me to discuss his former role with the Bangsar Kiwanis which is dedicated to the cause of the disabled.

Dr. Jason explained that the Kiwanis International Organization has 59 clubs throughout Malaysia. Though are all under Kiwanis, clubs are dedicated to specific causes, and each club selects its own. Although Kiwanis is not synonymous with the disabled internationally, the Malaysian Clubs are well-known for their focus on major health issues such as Down’s syndrome, kidney issues, their historic iodized salt campaigns, and their immunization programmes in rural areas. The Kiwanis Club of Pantai, KL decided several years ago to focus on ways that could help all the disabled in the country by undertaking a major project, namely, building and maintaining a helpful website, www.disabilitiesmalaysia.com .

Dr. Jason had the idea because he knew that no centralized lists or groups for information and resources for the disabled exist here. He maintains that in every Malaysian state, there are actually excellent resources available, but there was no way to access information about them in one place, hence the website.

Because he is a doctor, and was trained in Australia, he knows there is a limited “window of opportunity” for most disabled babies and children, especially those with Down’s syndrome or autism. Treatments like intensive physical, speech, and occupational therapies are either started as soon as possible, or the child has a far harder time as they grow into adults or worse, become permanently or more severely disabled.

The website was immediately successful and the phone calls poured in. People who had been searching for physical therapists, specific doctors, equipment, and government information all were able to find excellent resources on the site including a several thousand volume library. Unfortunately, the monetary resources to keep it updated were scarce, and beginning four years ago, the site stopped being updated. Although it is still up and running, approximately 60% of the listings are now out of date. Therefore Dr Jason started the. MYDA – The Malaysian Disability Alliance FACEBOOK GROUP (www.facebook.com/groups/mydagroup)

“In terms of disabilities, one of the biggest obstacles in Malaysia today is the lack of a centralised network for information, discussion and resources. This affects the disabled themselves, their parents, caregivers, therapists and professionals alike.

Promoted

“MYDA was set up as an attempt to pull together the Malaysian disability community and to allow easy exchange of information on any and all aspects of disability. MYDA is an ‘alliance,’ and thus requires all members to share resources and work together to provide information and advice in a timely manner.

“The situation for the disabled in Malaysia is exacerbated because of two major problems. First, there is not a single Ministry devoted to the issue; instead, there are three that overlap: The Ministry of Health; The Ministry of Family, Women, and Children; and The Social Welfare Ministry,” explains Dr. Jason.

“The second factor is that there are very few officially recognised disabilities. They are visual, hearing, speech, physical, mental and multiple disabilities. Therefore, even though there is an official ‘Disabled Status’ card to allow citizens [though not foreigners] benefits like parking and tax exemptions, very few Malaysians actually apply.”

I find him to be an extraordinary person: a man who not only embodies the epitome of the mission of Kiwanis, but stands out as the best kind of citizen for any country.

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Source: The Expat February 2013

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