Disabled persons in this country are hard-pressed to believe that the government is concerned with the challenges they are facing. Despite countless pleas not to be left out in the nation’s progress, they are still struggling to cope with environmental and attitudinal barriers all the time. To add insult to injury, past mistakes are recreated in the present.
Rapid KL made a major blunder when they never took the needs of disabled persons into account and acquired non-accessible buses in 2004. Three years down the road, RapidPenang is making the same mistake when Penang State Local Government and Traffic Management Committee Chairman Datuk Dr. Teng Hock Nan announced that “for the time being, we will not be having special buses for the disabled who use wheelchairs.”
In respond to Dr. Teng’s statement, the Barrier-free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) called for a press conference on April 14 to dispel the misconception that disabled persons and wheelchair users need special buses. These so called “special buses” are in reality non-step buses that are widely used as public buses in Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. Apart from being accessible and having places for wheelchairs inside the buses, it is just like other regular buses that the public can use.
It will be a grave mistake and an act of discrimination against disabled persons on RapidPenang’s part in not providing such accessibility. Public buses have a lifespan of between ten to twenty years, depending on how well they are maintained. Do disabled persons have to wait another ten to twenty years? Why is the government not making an effort to get it right from the beginning now that they have the opportunity to do so?