This was sent to Letters to the Editor of The Star on September 28, 2006 but was not published.
Malaysia is heading for exciting times as the nation celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence next year. Around that time, we will have a cosmonaut in the International Space Station (ISS) as reported in “Russia-bound astronaut candidates inspired after meeting Abdullah” (The Star, September 27, 2006). This puts another feather in the cap to mark our achievements as a maturing nation.
While we wait in anticipation for the day one of our own steps into the ISS orbiting 350 km above us, it is ironic that a group of people back home here in on Earth cannot move around conveniently, even for distances a fraction of that to the ISS.
In the haste to improve the public transport system in the Klang Valley, disabled persons are once again left out in the planning. None of the new Rapid KL buses are accessible to wheelchair users. Even senior citizens have problems boarding the buses because of the unfriendly height of its steps.
Disabled persons are disillusioned by empty promises. There was a protest in 1994 when it was apparent that STAR LRT was not accessible. 12 years later, wheelchair users still cannot use the trains because there are no elevators up to the platform, or use any public transport for that matter.
We are beginning to wonder if our needs will ever be addressed. Do we need to resort to staging demonstrations and protests again to get our voices heard? For what it is worth, it is an uphill battle for us all the way and all the time.
What does it take for the government to realise that accessible public transport is an urgent need without which we cannot do much. We have to miss out on education and work opportunities. This makes us even more disadvantaged.
The often heard excuse of not including accessible facilities is the cost factor. How can we put a price on the rights of fellow citizens? Public transport is for all, irrespective of physical condition. The needs of one group must not be at the expense of another. However, in the case of public transport, it looks like the needs of disabled persons are at the lowest of priorities.
As we anxiously wait for the first Malaysian to go into outer space, I urge to government to seriously look into the plight of disabled persons who cannot even get out from their homes. We should not look that far out when we have not even tackled challenges that are right in front of us.