So, 2007 is Visit Malaysia Year again. Incidentally, this is also the year we will be celebrating our 50th Independence Day. The Ministry of Tourism is targeting more than 20 million foreign visitors for this campaign. Undeniably, Malaysia has much to offer to tourists. After all, we are a melting pot of cultures that date back to the time when Malacca was the centre of commerce between the East and West many centuries ago.
While tourism officials are busy preparing glittering bunga mangga and kompang troupes to greet the influx of tourism dollars, the government is doing nothing to make tourists with mobility impairments feel welcomed. This group of tourists include senior citizens and wheelchair users.
One only has to go on a walkabout along the many attractions in Kuala Lumpur to understand the dire situation. Walkways either do not have kerb cuts or are in a state of disrepair. Accessible toilets are far and few in between. There are no public buses that they can ride in for a city tour. How then do we expect these people to move around and enjoy their time while they are here?
At the same time, Kuala Lumpur will also be playing host to the FESPIC Games later this month. According to its website, “The FESPIC Games is the biggest multi-sports & multi-disability event for athletes with disabilities in Asia and Oceania, and the second largest Games in the world, after the Paralympic Games.”
Come November 21, as many as 4,000 athletes and officials from about 50 countries will congregate in the capital for 12 days of intense competition. Surely some of them would love to visit the many attractions that Kuala Lumpur is famous for. What impression of Malaysia will they bring back to their country when they find that they are unable to visit these places because of the lack of accessible amenities? Certainly the warm Malaysian hospitality will not be sufficient to prevail over the inconvenience and disappointment that they have to face.
With four years to prepare for the games, Kuala Lumpur is still as inaccessible as ever. We have nobody to blame but the government for being complacent in this matter. When such an important event cannot even move the government to upgrade public facilities into barrier-free ones, what more can disabled citizens expect?