PLUS General Manager of Corporate Communications Puan Khalilah Talha at the Real Roundtable 2006.
Back in 2006, I sat through a presentation by PLUS General Manager of Corporate Communications Puan Khalilah Talha titled Voluntary Corporate Compliance at The Real Rountable (Real Access for Life). The event was organised by the Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat in conjunction with the International Day of Disabled Persons to discuss about the barriers faced by disabled people in society.
PLUS presentation on accessible facilities at rest stops at the Real Roundtable 2006.
The presentation specifically touched on the accessible facilities already constructed at the rest areas and plans to include such facilities in rest areas without them. I referred back to the conference pack and found amongst the presentation, a slide that proclaimed “dedicated handicapped restrooms” at the expressway’s rest and service areas were MS 1184 compliant. Malaysian Standard MS 1184 is the Code of Practice on Access for Disabled Persons to Public Buildings. At that time, I did not have a driving license yet and a newbie to the advocacy moment. I was thoroughly impressed by the progressive attitude of PLUS with regards to accessible facilities at the rest areas.
Ramp with steep gradient at Tapah Rest and Service Area northbound.
For the past year or so, Wuan and I have been travelling up to Ipoh and Penang rather frequently using the North South Expressway. We would usually break our journey at Tapah Rest and Serivce Areas to use the toilet and for some light snacks. PLUS Expressways Berhad had put up signs to indicate accessible facilities at these places, namely parking spaces, ramps and toilets for the convenience of disabled people.
Accessible parking space at Tapah Rest and Service Area northbound.
It was during those trips that I discovered most of the
accessible facilities were not in compliance with MS 1184. Ramps were mostly too steep. Fittings in the toilets were at the wrong places. Accessible parkings were not usable and mostly occupied by vehicles not entitled to the facilities. Wheelchair users should be able to use accessible facilities independently but those available at the rest areas were otherwise. Even if I could or wanted to, I would not be able to move conveniently around these places without assistance. Truly, it was a case of “indah khabar dari rupa.”
Parking space not suitable for disabled people at Simpang Pulai lay by southbound.
When we went to visit my third paternal aunt in Melaka last week, we stopped at the Ayer Keroh Rest and Service Area. The food court and toilets were built on land elevated above the car park. The only way to get to the buildings for me were by way of a series of ramps. There was a yellow signboard with the wheelchair logo. just by the ramp.
The ramps at the Ayer Keroh RSA do not comply with MS 1184. In fact, the section from leading to the road is a potential death trap for wheelchair users descending the ramps. The gradient was simply too steep even for assisted descent. Ramps should not have a gradient steeper than 1:12, meaning for every 10cm rise, the length of the ramps should be 120cm in length. Outdoor ramps are recommended to have a gradient of 1:15. A good ramp is one that a wheelchair user can ascent or descent effortlessly and independently.
Wuan got me up the ramp after much huffing and puffing. The ramps connecting the various buildings were no better and do not comply with MS 1184. The accessible toilets were located in either the gents or ladies. Wuan had to accompany me into the gents accessible toilet to assist me. Ideally it would have been better to have separate accessible toilets to avoid embarassment should the personal assistant of the wheelchair user is of the opposite gender.
The accessible toilet inside the gents was locked. Wuan checked the accessible toilet in the ladies. It was locked too. We had to wait for the cleaner to unlock it. I had to quickly do what I wanted to do in there as it reeked of urine. That must have been the most torturous 10 minutes in an accessible toilet for me ever.
When it was time to get back to the car, I checked with a Propel staff if there was an easier way down. Apparently, that ramp was the only way. I had a feeling Wuan would not be able to assist me down the steep ramp. Two of the staff from Propel offered to help me descent to the car park. Even so, they had problems trying to hold my wheelchair from rolling down. I would not be able to go down the ramp by myself unless I had a death wish.
The wheelchair signboard indicating the ramp is misleading. That is neither a functional ramp nor a safe one to use. PLUS must ensure that accessible facilities bearing the wheelchair logo comply to MS 1184. Building a ramp and putting up a signboard with a wheelchair logo does not necessarily make it usable by disabled people. The ramp must be of the correct gradient, length, surface and fitted with handrails of the proper diameter.
Likewise PLUS’ responsibility does not end at allocating accessible parking spaces. The company must also ensure that these facilities are used only by people who are entitled to it. There is really no point in putting up signboards indicating parking for disabled people and then allow every Tom, Dick and Harry to park there when none of the occupants of the vehicles are disabled people. Of all the times that I have stopped at the Tapah Rest and Service Area, I could not park there as it was occupied by vehicles not entitled to park there.
PLUS still have much room for improvement in providing accessible facilities at rest stops and lay-bys. It would be good for it to engage the services of access officers to do an audit on existing facilities and advice it on future upgrading. This is to ensure that the facilities are truly MS 1184 compliant and fully functional and safe to use by disabled people.
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