Big Society, Disability and Civil Society Research

Website for ESRC research project 'Big Society? Disabled People with Learning Disabilities and Civil Society'

Meeting one of Malaysia’s most renowned disability activists

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Dan Goodley and Rebecca Lawthom – from the Big Society team – had the pleasure of meeting the internationally renowned disability activist, blogger and journalist Peter Tan in Kuala Lumpur this morning. Peter’s work has been highly influential in documenting the barriers faced by disabled people in Malaysia. An introduction to Peter and his work can be found here from which the following extract is taken:

‘Peter Tan sustained spinal cord injury at the age of 18 when he dived into a swimming pool in 1984. He has been using a wheelchair since.

Faced with physical and attitudinal barriers wherever he went, he became an advocate for an accessible and inclusive Malaysia. He is a prolific writer on disability issues in his blog called The Digital Awakening. He was trained in Malaysia, Japan and Bangkok as a peer counselor for the Independent Living Programme for People with Disabilities. This project is supported by the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia (Department of Social Welfare Malaysia) and Japan International Cooperation Agency to empower severely disabled persons to live independently in the community through self-respect, self-determination and social reformation’.

In our meeting today we discussed the impact of austerity measures on the lives of British disabled people – as revealed by our Big Society project – as well as the current pressures facing disabled people in Malaysia. Disabled people in both countries continue to face real problems in accessing their communities. Peter explained to us inaccessible experiences of public transport and public buildings that occur even in a context of anti-discriminatory legislation. The Persons with Disabilities Act was passed in Malaysia in 2008 (

However, disabled people still struggle for representation in Malaysian civil society. Peter’s work as a Disability Equality Trainer seeks to contest disablist practices through work with public bodies and private organisations. Dan Goodley had this to say about the meeting; ‘After following Peter’s blog for a number of years – and having the chance to correspond via email – it was fantastic to actually get to meet Peter today with Rebecca. His writing captures the importance of combining personal stories with political activism and we look forward to keeping in touching the future’. Rebecca revealed ‘ hearing what life is really like for disabled people as active citizens in Malaysia adds to our picture of inclusion here’.

Peter has recently been a speaker at the first international disability studies conference hosted by the Centre of Excellence for Disability Studies, UNIMAS, Kuching ( with whom members of the Big Society team have also previously collaborated ( .

Peter’s writing can also be accessed through the Borneo Post (for example,


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