When ignorance is endangerment – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 6 December, 2015

When ignorance is endangerment
December 6, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan, mail@petertan.com

MY wife and I had wanted to get some shelves for organising our books, my training materials and various knick-knacks that were occupying the three-seater sofa and everywhere else we could pile them on. We were afraid if we didn’t allocate a proper place for them, guests visiting us would think we are hoarders.

Incidentally, IKEA recently opened its second store in Malaysia near where we live. Not wanting to jostle with the massive crowd on the opening day, we went the following weekend. We frequent its other store which I would rate as the most accessible building in the country. Much thought had been put into making the entire building friendly to disabled people.

The first impression I got from the second store was positive. Accessible parking spaces in the basement were plenty. I counted 12 from where we parked our car – there could be more. They were located near the entrance to the elevators and I could push myself effortlessly because the floor was level all the way.

My one gripe was that the markings on the floor to indicate these allocated parking spaces were not clear. Anyone could have parked their car in those spaces without realising it. I could see that they were still doing some final touch up on parts of the building. Hopefully, they would get around to making the markings more noticeable.

At the ground floor, the only way for me to get to the showroom was by way of elevators but both were not working. We approached a young woman who was manning the information counter for assistance.

“The lifts are not working,” she stated the obvious: “You can use the escalator.”

I was taken aback by her obliviousness to the fact that I was in a wheelchair. Most shopping malls prohibit wheelchairs and prams from using escalators for safety reasons. There was no way I was going up on the escalator – even with assistance.

“Is there another way to go up?” I asked her while pointing to my wheelchair, adding: “I can’t stand or walk.”

She pondered over the situation and then went away to consult a colleague.

“The lifts are not working,” the colleague repeated when she came over and indicated I could use the escalator.

I had to explain the predicament again to her. Being familiar with the layout of the first store, I was certain there was another elevator somewhere that I could use. She agreed there was but said I was not allowed to use it for one reason or another.

While we were going back and forth on the matter, two mascots trooped out from a door nearby. And lo and behold, behind that door was the elevator I was talking about. To make a long story short, they eventually let me use it to get to the showroom.

Such inconveniences may seem trivial but imagine having to explain the problem again and again. It was so frustrating and tedious. Shopping should be an enjoyable experience. It should not turn into a minor argument that would leave me feeling exasperated.

The episode I went through was needless if the staff were trained to handle customers’ problems with tact. Generally-speaking, companies should consider inculcating their staff with soft skills and think on their feet when facing such situations.

While I understand there are company rules and policies to follow, some degree of flexibility should be permitted in unexpected circumstances. Having said that, I wouldn’t fault the IKEA staff for the trouble and their ignorance. As the store just opened for business, they were probably new and still learning the ropes.

I have experienced having to reason with workers in cinemas, shopping malls and restaurants when they refused to accommodate me, which they rightfully should. I try not to be a difficult customer as far as possible but when the omission of their services or facilities leads to discrimination, I would not hesitate to point it out and demand that they be corrected.

Thankfully, this is not something I have to do often.

Front-line staff shouldn’t only be sensitised on the proper etiquette when dealing with disabled customers. As we are living in a pluralistic society, they should also be equipped with skills to serve customers of diverse ethnicity, age, religion and culture.

We got the shelves we were looking for. Assembling them should be straightforward. We already have a number of similar shelves set up in the living room, store room and kitchen. The difficult part now is to move the existing furniture around.

With a bit of luck, we may be able to create enough space to accommodate all the stuff.

This will certainly make the living room neater, airier and my training materials easier to find.

As it is, I always have to dig through stacks of documents whenever I needed to use them. I really can’t wait to have guests in the house again.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/12/06/when-ignorance-is-endangerment/#ixzz3wasXYo8m

A day for spurring positive changes – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 28 November, 2015

A day for spurring positive changes
November 28, 2015, Saturday Peter Tan, mail@petertan.com

THE International Day of Persons with Disabilities falls on Dec 3. The United Nations encourages governments, civil society organisations and the private sector to join hands with disabled people’s organisations to commemorate the day by organising events and activities to create awareness and take action to realise equality and full participation of all in society.

This day has been observed worldwide since 1992 to promote awareness and garner support for the inclusion of disabled people in society and development. There is a specific theme for each year towards these goals. The theme for 2015 is ‘Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities’.

In explaining the theme for this year, the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the United Nations stresses that “disability is part of the human condition, and that all of us either are or will become disabled to one degree or another during the course of our lives”. Therefore, a society that is accessible to all will benefit everyone now or in the foreseeable future.

Empowerment is a potent tool in effecting social change. Empowered people are enlightened people. When we realise we have the right and ability to make informed choices and take action to create a better environment for ourselves and the people around us, we become change agents and take on active roles in the development of the community we live in.

This year’s theme is more grounded to the realities faced by disabled people and something I can relate to personally. Accessibility is an issue disability rights advocates have been pushing for since the 70s or even earlier and an issue we are still working on as it involves all aspects of society like education, employment and transportation.

The achievements we have gained so far were not handed to us on a silver platter. We had to work very hard for it. In order for us to do what we have been doing, we have to become empowered. The work is still far from over. We need to have more empowered leaders to carry on until we can realise full inclusion and access in all aspects of life. For that reason, I feel that this year’s theme is relevant in shoring up support for what we have been pushing for all these years.

There are also three sub-themes for 2015 to focus on more specific issues. They are making cities inclusive and accessible for all, improving disability data and statistics, and including persons with invisible disabilities in society and development.

I am glad to note invisible disabilities is included. It is an area that is not often discussed. When we talk about disability, we usually expect to see someone in a wheelchair, using assistive devices or displaying characteristics of impairments we can identify visually. On the other hand, invisible disabilities or hidden disabilities are not noticeable.

Awareness on this subject is scant even among disability rights advocates who mainly come from the ranks of very visible disabilities. We find it more comfortable to talk about issues that society can see. What is out of sight is commonly out of mind but the issues faced by people with these conditions are real.

This sub-theme focuses mainly on mental and psychosocial disabilities. It says “one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime” and further states that “almost one million people die due to suicide every year and it is the third leading cause of death among young people”. The number is significant enough to warrant attention and action to raise awareness of the situation and provide timely support.

Truth be told and embarrassingly, my understanding of invisible disabilities is superficial at best although I have been involved with disability rights advocacy for the past 10 years. I began to read up on it only when preparing myself for a radio interview recently. One of the questions was on dealing with people with invisible disabilities.

To begin with, other than psychosocial disorders, invisible disabilities include intellectual impairments, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, multiple sclerosis, bowel and bladder incontinence, and chronic back pain. These conditions are permanent although some can be managed with medication. Nevertheless, people living with them have to deal with the debilitating effects on a daily basis.

Because these conditions are not readily apparent, people living with invisible disabilities are often misunderstood and even experience hostility when they are unable to interact in socially expected and accepted ways. At the end of the day, they are still humans with emotions and feelings like everyone else, and should be treated with patience, respect and empathy.

When dealing with persons with invisible disabilities, the first instance is to give them the benefit of the doubt and not jump to conclusions. Don’t be too quick to pass judgement. What they are experiencing may be worse than what they are letting on.

Where possible, make reasonable accommodation and allowances. The confidentiality of their condition must be respected at all times unless they choose to share it. Many elect to conceal the invisible disabilities to avoid discrimination and being stigmatised.

While the International Day for Persons with Disabilities is commemorated once every year, disabled people, whether with visible or invisible disabilities have to go cope with multiple issues caused by systemic and institutional barriers all year round. Hence, the momentum of awareness raising and actions to change stemming from this meaningful day must continue and be sustained until the goals are met.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/28/a-day-for-spurring-positive-changes/#ixzz3uN9QPeid

More than a child’s play – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 22 November, 2015

More than a child’s play
November 22, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan, mail@petertan.com

Photo shows Lego replicas of heritage buildings in Singapore and Penang.
Photo shows Lego replicas of heritage buildings in Singapore and Penang.

THERE was a time when children’s toys were played with by children only. From humble marbles to fancy remote control toy cars, they were either obtained by scrimping on pocket money for months, received as presents from pampering adults or hand-me-downs from older siblings.

From keeping the children occupied to stimulating their creative juices, from gifts on festive occasions to incentives for doing well in their studies, these toys never failed to light up those little faces. Whether they were do-it-yourself or bought from shops, toys have been a part of growing up that have appealed to their sense of curiosity and adventure.

But some of these playthings are not the domain of the young any more. Adults have shamelessly and unreservedly jumped onto the bandwagon too. I am especially referring to Lego. The little blocks with studs that can be put together to produce various objects have become prized possessions for grown-ups of every age as well as children.

Every time a limited edition Lego set is offered for sale or given away with purchases, there would be long queues outside the entrance to the shops way before they opened for business. These sets were snapped up quickly no matter how expensive they were or the amount one needed to spend to get them for free.

Scalpers made the matter worse by taking the opportunity to cash in on this craze. They generate an artificial scarcity by buying up as many sets as they can to resell at highly inflated prices, sometimes immediately after acquiring them. What is more surprising is that there are buyers out there willing to pay the prices demanded. Well, I guess different strokes for different folks. Even without scalpers, this is not a cheap hobby to indulge in. Retail prices can go as high as RM2,000 for a set depending on whether they are franchises of shows like the Star Wars and Avengers, both of which are popular currently, or Lego’s own range like City and Friends. Additionally, the other dilemma enthusiasts always have to struggle with is finding space to display fully constructed sets.

A Lego exhibition was in town recently and I still can’t believe I went there three times in two weeks to gawk in awe at the models on display. The only excuse I can offer for this “madness” is that my wife invariably suggested the shopping mall where it was being held each time I asked her where to go for meals.

Called ‘Dream & Build’ and billed as the largest Lego event in Malaysia, the models were submitted by members of the Lego User Group of Malaysia with a membership of more than 6,800 enthusiasts on Facebook. From heritage buildings to spaceships and scenes from Star Wars, the detailed miniature models were built by grown-up enthusiasts who fondly call themselves as AFOL (Adult Fans of Lego).

The heritage buildings were replicas of well-known landmarks in Penang, Malacca and Singapore. One section of the exhibition was dedicated to depicting a small city with shops and a fairground. There were also models of the Medieval period replete with castles and knights.

The models were not sets purchased off the shelves. AFOL painstakingly designed and built them from scratch with parts sourced from sets and loose pieces that can be bought in bulk for such purposes. In Lego-speak, these one-of-a-kind of models are known as MOC which is the acronym for ‘My Own Creation’.

I have to confess that I succumbed to this Lego obsession as well. It started with my first acquisition of the Marvel and DC Universe Super Heroes buildable figures in 2012 when the craze had not caught on yet. The popular sets were easier to get back then without the need to queue even for the rarer sets.

I am slowly moving into doing MOCs which I find more fulfilling after dabbling with ready-made sets for a while now, mainly from the Star Wars and City range. The things that I can build with Lego bricks are countless, limited only by my own imagination and the parts available at hand. I like the idea of being able to create something to call my own.

With my poor hand function, it requires a lot of patience, particularly when handling the small parts which is a great challenge because I have very little control over my thumb and fingers. What usually takes others 10 minutes to piece together takes me more than one hour. In a way, it is a form of physical and emotional therapy for me. The satisfaction of seeing the end result is priceless. This is the same feeling I am sure the other AFOL experience each time they complete building their sets.

My wife is a convert too. However, she is more into modular buildings which can be joined together to form a city block. These sets containing more than 2,000 pieces are suited for more advanced builders and are considered toys for adults. The box states that they are suitable for those aged 16 and above as compared to regular Lego sets which are usually for children of ages six to 12. And yes, our predicament is also in making space in the house for our increasing collections respectively.

The interest in toys like this is proof that there is a child in every one of us who will never grow up. Adults are no longer limited to pampering themselves with big boy toys like high-powered motorcycles and cars. Cute little things like Lego have become equally appealing too.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/22/more-than-a-childs-play/#ixzz3uN8oC4v2