Malaysian disability-rights advocate honored in Washington

Nani Yusof
Malaysian disability-rights advocate honored in Washington Malaysian Sen. Ras Adiba Radzi speaks to BenarNews at the U.S. State Department a day after receiving the International Women of Courage Award at the While House in Washington, March 9, 2023.
Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA

A Malaysian disability-rights advocate named a “Woman of Courage” by the U.S. State Department is urging parents to get early intervention for children with disabilities, and society in general to respect, understand and embrace members of this community.

Born able-bodied, Ras Adiba Radzi became permanently paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident, an assault and a fall from a ladder. She subsequently committed her life to fighting for the rights of people with disabilities, she said.

“I witnessed discrimination and stigma [towards] persons with disabilities and then on my team, and I fought and fought and fought,” Ras Adiba, 54, told a ceremony held Wednesday at the White House.

“I have been working tirelessly to create awareness on the importance of accessibility in infrastructure, disability inclusion, job opportunities, inclusive education, housing, and upholding our rights, among others.”

A well-known news anchor, she continued to read the news from a wheelchair, became a Paralympics sharpshooter, and was eventually appointed a senator representing people with disabilities. From November 2020 to January 2023, she served as the first woman to chair the national news agency, Bernama.

Ras Adiba even set a national record for “wheeling” 420 km (260 miles) in 13 days in her wheelchair from Johor Bahru to Putrajaya, according to a biography released by the State Department.

“We must also make sure to create awareness so people know about us and support us,” she told BenarNews in Washington. “So, we need to move positively. We need to respect, understand and embrace people with disabilities in the community.”

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 billion people are living with significant disabilities, representing 16% of the world population, or 1 in every 6 people.

Children with disabilities must be given full support as early as possible, she said.

“We must always make sure that we give that child the education that they so need. We must not deprive a child from being someone who is able to one day become a Paralympic athlete, someday be a businessman who’s a multimillionaire, or a billionaire.”

At the ceremony on Wednesday, first lady Jill Biden addressed the next generation.

“[T]oday, we’re here to tell girls everywhere the truth that they need to hear: Yes, you matter. Yes, you can make a difference,” Biden said. “That’s why we wanted to bring the leaders we’re honoring today, and the stories that they share, to the biggest stage we could: The White House.

“Girls everywhere need to know that there are women fighting for them and winning. Opening doors, transforming schools and communities and governments, building a better world for all of us.”

Speaking to BenarNews the following day, Ras Adiba addressed the lack of women in politics in Malaysia, where the 222-member parliament has 30 women and the 70-member senate has nine.

Asked how this could be changed, she said that one way is simply to insist to women themselves that they are capable of it.

“We think we can’t do that and we can’t do this, but women in Malaysia are among the most extraordinary women in the world, in my opinion,” she said.

Malaysian Sen. Ras Adiba Radzi gestures during her interview with BenarNews at the U.S. State Department in Washington, March 9, 2023. [Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA]

Ras Adiba described how she felt upon learning she had been selected for the honor.

“When I heard the news that I was selected as one of 11 ‘Women of Courage’ in the world, I was stunned and broke down to tears. This is not for me actually, it is a recognition for Malaysia, especially women and girls at home,” she told BenarNews.

“I will get home and share about my experience here, then I will work with women and girls in Malaysia to determine how we can help each other,” she said. “We can rise together and do extraordinary things that we once thought that we couldn’t achieve.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.