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Meet Mariappan Perumal, Malaysia’s First Paralympic Medalist Who’s Now Forgotten By His

A recent report by VICE has uncovered a heart-wrenching story about an unsung hero in our country who goes by the name of Mariappan Perumal. That name probably doesn’t ring a bell with you, and that’s precisely the problem here.

Mariappan was our country’s first ever Paralympic medalist, having won the bronze medal for weightlifting not once, but twice at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul and 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona.

But today, Mariappan has aged, and given his disability (a result of Polio that left him immobile from the waist down since childhood), the former Paralympian can no longer compete in major tournaments like he used to. And as his glory fade, so does the public support.

“I went to so many competitions that I lost my job. Once I retired, the government didn’t help me at all — they just gave me pension,” Mariappan told VICE World News. “My name portrays excellence but my life doesn’t reflect it.”




“I have made Malaysia proud so many times. I’ve worked so hard for the country and competed in seven Paralympics. I have made a lot of sacrifices for this country. And this is what I get,” said Mariappan.

Mariappan now lives in a public housing unit and tries to make ends meet on a small state pension. And his story is just one out of the 4.5 million more unheard voices that belong to Malaysia’s marginalised persons with disabilities (PWD) community.

Although the government has previously introduced a law in 1988 that mandates one percent of public sector jobs to be filled by PWD, it is simply not enough to address the entire issue at hand. Even with the one percent quota, many PWD are still marginalised and are unable to seek employment within their own means.

In fact, there are only four ministries in Malaysia that have managed to hit more than one percent of the quota right now, says Senator Ras Adiba Radzi, who suffered a series of accidents that rendered her paralyzed in 1999, leaving her wheelchair-bound.

Senator Ras Adiba – Credits: Hype MY & The Edge Markets


But that did not break Ras Adiba’s spirit as she now spends her days championing causes to advocate for PWD empowerment, while working as a newscaster twice a week. She has also proposed an update to the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, but admits that it would take time for improvement to take place.

The truth is, even prominent figures like Mariappan and Ras Adiba struggle with having their voices heard through the loud echoes of judgement and ignorance from society, what more with the people whose names are barely spoken of in the media.

The problem with unemployment in the PWD community is more than just the tip of the ice berg, it is the repercussion of lacking PWD-friendly infrastructure everywhere from office spaces to public sidewalks, that makes it difficult for PWD to have the basic right to a comfortable workplace and accessible commute.

Engineers, architect, construction workers, plumbers, town planners, ANYBODY WHO IS INCHARGE OF MALAYSIA’S INFRASTUCTURE. LISTEN UP. Work with OKUs when you wanna construct your buildings. Make it accessible. Don’t give us this pic.twitter.com/X3VaeTMnT3 — Rakyat: Purry (@twt_malaysia) April 10, 2021

As normal citizens, we may not be able to change much about the laws and infrastructure in this country, but what we can do is to educate ourselves, get rid of our judgement towards PWD, and show them some love and support, so let’s start there.

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