“I am a disabled person through no fault of mine. Therefore, I deserve all the help I can get from society. If I don’t get it, it means I have been treated unfairly.

“It is my right to demand for assistance and it is the community’s obligation to give it.”

Somehow, I tend to get…

…this message when I talk to some people with physical disabilities and read about their plight in the newspaper.

If that is how you think, as a physically handicapped person, think again.

No one owes you a living. Your disability is your problem. Just like those without disabilities, you have to take responsibility for your own circumstances.

Taking responsibility is about doing the best you can for yourself with what you have and maintaining your dignity.

Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley, president of the Disabled People’s Association, is a shining example of a such a disabled person.

Blinded at 21, four years after impairing his vision in a rugby accident, he went on to become an internationally-acclaimed humanitarian and author.

He was awarded a testimonial by the United Nations for his dedicated service in supporting its programmes for disabled persons.

Talking about his handicap in a radio interview, Mr Chandran-Dudley said: “If I had curled myself into a ball and laid down in a corner, I think they would have treated me like a ball in a corner and maybe rolled me around a little bit.

“I stood up and said: ‘Look, I will not take this lying down. I have significance’.”

Mr Chandran-Dudley is a well respected leader in the social work community today because he decided to take control of his life, instead of whining about his disability and expecting charity.

Had he done otherwise, he would not have made such a positive difference in the lives of so many unprivileged, both locally and internationally.

Besides taking charge, the greatest gift we, the physically handicapped, can give ourselves is dignity. It is how we gain respect from others for what we are.

That was why I was disturbed by the report, “Don’t call me enabled” (Jan 12), published in this newspaper. Mr Edwin Eio, 55, a polio victim who does not require any mobility aid such as a wheelchair or walking stick, was fined $400 for parking illegally in a space for cars driven by the handicapped.

Although he walked with a pronounced limp, he could not obtain the necessary car park label which would allow him to use the reserved space.

Of course he felt aggrieved. But where is his dignity?

Contrary to his belief, the law does not penalise people like him. It has the greatest respect for what he can do. He does not have to take advantage of his situation. There are others who deserve to use the parking space more.

Mr Eio should not be indignant at not getting a car park label for the disabled. He should be proud he did not get the “special treatment” despite his handicap. It shows that he is in a better position than those who qualify for it.

If we, the physically handicapped, want people to accept us, we should enhance our dignity by contributing to the community in any way we can, and by helping others less fortunate than us. It may be a cliché to say that it is better to give than to receive. But it bears repeating especially for the handicapped who have been stereotyped as receivers of goodwill.

I am aware it is difficult to change the stereotype as many people with disabilities are helplessly dependent on others. But those of us who can make a positive difference in society should not hide behind our disabilities.

(This entry can be found in TODAY of 19 January 2006)