It has been six years since I moved down to Kuala Lumpur. I have pretty much settled down to a routine that I am comfortable with, or so I thought – work from home on weekdays unless there are workshops to conduct and go out on weekends for weekly grocery shopping and a little bit of food indulgence at one of the many shopping malls with Wuan.
As a wheelchair user, I have come to realise that I have let my days out dictated by the accessibility of a particular place. If that place does not have a ramp or accessible parking, I will most probably give it a miss. It is just too much hassle and dangerous, not for me only but for Wuan as well, to have to struggle with barriers at a time when we should be enjoying ourselves.
This is how I have allowed barriers in the built-environment shape my life. This is also how the lives of other disabled people are being shaped. Our outdoor activities are limited to small pockets of public places I call islands of accessibility in an ocean of barriers. There is very little connectivity from one place to another either by pedestrian walkways or accessible public transport.
The public places that I go to nowadays are so few that I can count them with just the fingers of both hands. As I write this, I am reminded of the story of the circus elephants. As a baby, one of their legs would be chained to stakes. They could only walk as far as the length of the short chains allowed. So they would walk round and round the stakes. In their adulthood, even with the chains removed, they would not stray beyond that radius.
If you ask me, many disabled people are just like that circus elephant. How sad our lives have become. The various levels of government are not interested in making the infrastructure accessible. Ministers, Members of Parliament, State Assembly Members and municipal councillors provide lip service and promptly forget their promises to resolve issues faced by disabled people.
Enabling disabled people can be just as simple as making the built-environment and public transport barrier-free. Many more disabled people can come out from their homes and become productive. I know I can. It is very unfortunate that new public facilities continue to be put up without a care how they will create more problems for disabled people. The cost of making these facilities accessible at the planning stages would have been negligible. On the other hand, correcting mistakes could be costly.
Disabled people have no choice but to come together to demand that our rights be respected as recognised in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Malaysia has ratified. Until such a time when all disabled people in Malaysia can stand united and speak with one voice, we will continue to be ignored and marginalised. Do we want to be like that circus elephants or do we want to claim our rightful place in society? The choice is ours.