Materials for the ReAL Roundtable.
The Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat organised Real Access for Life (ReAL) Roundtable (Persidangan Akses untuk Kehidupan Sebenar) to look into the problems of accessibility that disabled persons have been facing at the Berjaya Times Square Hotel and Convention Centre. The event held in conjunction with International Day of Disabled Persons also involved the Kementerian Perumahan dan Kerajaan Tempatan, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The topics covered and speakers for the morning sessions were:
Building a Disabled Friendly Townscape: The Malaysian Experience by Puan Norliza Hashim, President of the Malaysian Institute of Planners
Voluntary Corporate Compliance by Puan Khalilah Talha, General Manager of Corporate Communications, PLUS
Accessibility to Public Amenities: A Right of Persons with Disabilities by Professor Yutaka Takamine, University of the Ryukus, Japan
The speakers all provided good insights into the design, implementation and the importance of respecting the rights to accessible public amenities for disabled persons and those with mobility-impairments. Generally there is awareness among planners and corporations regarding such issues but the implementation of and compliance to existing legislation in such matters is severely lacking.
Dato’ Seri Shahrizat and Professor Yutaka and participants of the ReAL Roundtable.
However, the most embarrassing revelation came from Professor Yutaka when he revealed that Malaysia Airlines compelled him to sign an indemnity form before allowing him to fly to Malaysia. The good Professor only signed because he wanted to come and make his presentation as invited by the Ministry. He intimated that he will write a complaint letter to Malaysia Airlines regarding this matter.
Professor Yutaka and I.
Lets hope Dato’ Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil who was present and got further details from Professor Yutaka will take this issue up with Malaysia Airlines. This blatant act of discrimination against disabled persons is not acceptable, more so when the person is a guest of the government and a distinguished scholar affiliated with UNESCAP and other prestigious international organisations.
Later in the morning, four advocates on disability talked about challenges faced by specific disabled communities. The speakers were Dr. Wong Huey Siew from Malaysian Association for the Blind, Encik Mohamad Sazali Shaari, President of Malaysian Federation of the Deaf, Ms. Teoh Hooi Ting from United Voices and Ms. Bathmavathi Krishnan, Executive Committee of Society of the Orthopaedically Handicapped Malaysia (POCAM). The presentation was moderated by Cik Ras Adiba Radzi and Puan Khairiah Talha.
(L – r) Ras Adiba Radzi, Bathmavathi Krishnan, Teoh Hooi Ting, Dr. Wong Huey Siew, Khairiah Talha and Mohamad Sazali Shaari.
The strongest message yet came from Bathmavathi who talked at length about Malaysia having First World facilities but when it comes to accessible facilities, we are still very much stuck in a Third World quagmire. Most glaring were the buses used to transport athletes for the recently concluded Fespic Games. None met the minimum standards on accessibility for wheelchair users. Bathmavathi’s message was simple. Bring accessible facilities up to speed with the development of the nation. Disabled persons do not want to be left behind.
Lunch was a rushed affair as the programme for the morning extended way beyond the schedule. We also needed to be in time for the satellite window for the teleconference from Tokyo. JICA had arranged for Professor Satoshi Kose to speak on the topic titled From Barrier Free to Universal Design: Including Everyone in the Society. That was an interesting presentation because many of the concepts expounded are still alien to Malaysia. Professor Satoshi is with the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Design of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture in Japan.
Professor Satoshi speaking about universal design live from Tokyo via teleconferencing.
Mr. Joseph Kwan from UDA Consultants Ltd. Hong Kong then ran a very visually interesting presentation on accessible public transport in other countries. I missed the first half of his presentation as I had to perform my scheduled intermittent catheterisation. Nevertheless, seeing the effort other countries have made to provide accessibility to all made many of us wonder why Malaysia’s largest and most modern fleet of public buses still do not see the urgent need to emulate and implement such standards and why local authorities have never seriously enforced the Uniform Building By-Law that has been in existence since the 1990s.
The presentations culminated in a breakout session where participants were encouraged to provide feedback on how the issue of accessibility can be addressed by the government. A white paper will be drawn up and presented to the highest level of the government. The breakout sessions consisted of five topics: Social Barriers, Physical Barriers, Economic Barriers, Issues in Implementation, and Enforcement, Legislation and Standards.
My opinion is that it is impossible to come out with a solution within one hour during the breakout sessions. If it was that easy, disabled persons would not have held a rally again recently to demand for accessible public transport twelve years after a similar rally was organised to demand access for wheelchair users to ride the STAR LRT. Nonetheless, I am keeping my fingers crossed that something concrete will come out of this. To disabled persons, the time to listen to empty talks from the government is over. We want action and we want it now.