Penang Water Garden Not Wheelchair-Friendly

The Ministry of Tourism Malaysia spent RM7mil on the expansion of the Penang Botanic Gardens. It was completed last year. Two controversial arches were built at a cost of RM150,000 at the Penang Water Garden located beside the car park and just outside the old garden gates. Those two arches were later demolished following public outroar that they were unsightly and does not blend into the landscape. One of the arches was said to be tilting. The ministry allocated another RM70,000 for the demolition works.

News report mentioned that Penang Water Garden houses a complex of seven ponds, that altogether, cover the size of half a football field. This part of the expansion costs RM1.5mil. The ponds were cultivated with giant Victoria amazonica water lilies, lotuses and water plants. The Penang Water Garden is said to be the largest water garden in Malaysia.

No way for wheelchair user to get up the kerb and to the ramp at Penang Water Garden
No way for wheelchair user to get up the kerb and to the ramp at Penang Water Garden.
Photo by Wuan.

The Water Garden consists of several levels. There were two gentle ramps connecting the different levels. What exasperated me was that there were no ramps for wheelchair users to go up the kerbs from the road. One would expect that the Ministry of Tourism, Department of Irrigation and Drainage and other agencies responsible for this project would have the mind to include proper accessible facilities for disabled people visiting the gardens.

Unfortunately, RM220,000 was frittered away in building and then demolishing the arches while access needs of disabled visitors were not given due consideration at all. This is most disappointing especially when the Penang Botanic Gardens is popular among Penangites and tourists alike, and also the fact that the Persons with Disabilities Act has been in force since 2008.

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment In Malaysia

The wheelchair rolls well on smooth surfaces. Roads, pavements, grass and pebbled paths is another story. The small front caster can easily get caught between bumps and cracks. Apart from making it difficult to push, they make rides bumpy which in turn causes spasms of the legs. Traversing these surfaces could quickly damage the wheelchair as well. I avoid such terrains as much as possible. For someone who likes the great outdoors, it is indeed a difficult choice for me to make.

This is the same dilemma wheelchair users all over face when we want to go off the beaten path, until the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment was invented, that is. When I ordered the Tilite ZRA Series 2, I got the FreeWheel shipped together with the wheelchair to save on freight charges. With the FreeWheel hooked to the footrest, going across grassy fields or sandy beaches became a breeze. This practical mechanism is the brainchild of Pat Dougherty, a wheelchair user himself, who saw the need for an easier way to get the wheelchair across challenging terrains.

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia
Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia.
Photo by Wuan.

The FreeWheel’s design is simple and ingenious. It consists of a 12.5 inch wheel attached to a fork. Attaching the Freewheel to the wheelchair is easy once the clamp is properly adjusted to fit the footrest. Swing the wheel out and place the clamp over the footrest. Pull the lever back and the FreeWheel is securely clamped to the footrest. Push the wheelchair forward to turn the wheel back. This lifts the front casters one inch off the ground. And all is good to go!

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia
Closer view of Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment.
Photo by Wuan.

On my recent trip to Penang, I used the Freewheel at Gurney Drive, the Botanical Gardens and several other places. The ride was certainly smoother even over rough roads and paved walkways. Moving around was a joy. In tight spaces like at the food courts, I simply unclamped the FreeWheel, stored it by attaching it to the perch fastened to the back rigidizer bar. With the FreeWheel out of the way, I manuevered around crowds with ease. With the FreeWheel, I do not have to think twice about where I can go now. Using the wheelchair when I am out and about has become less inconvenient. Truly, the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment is the best thing since sliced bread for wheelchair users. Thanks, Pat, for a wonderful invention.

Broken Pavement At Pandan Perdana

It has been a while since I wheeled to the Pandan Perdana wet market with Wuan. Most of the time we just drive there although it is just a short walk from where we live due to the various barriers we encounter on the pavements along the way. Last Sunday, we decided to take a leisurely walk to the market for breakfast. What I encountered that morning reminded me of why I had seldom gone on such strolls.

Broken pavement at Jalan Perdana 3/1, Pandan Perdana
Wheelchair user on the road to avoid the broken pavement at Pandan Perdana.

A damaged section of the pavement forced me to go on the road. This broken pavement at Jalan Perdana 3/1 of Pandan Perdana has gone unrepaired for the past few months. A heavy crane truck that parked on it broke the concrete and gouged a big hole in the turfing. Many residents use this route to go to the wet market and also to the bus stop situated just down the road. Pedestrians, especially senior citizens, may trip on the broken slabs of concrete. Wheelchair users like me have no choice but go on the road and risk getting run over by passing vehicles.

It is very common to see vehicles parked on it causing pedestrians to go on the road as well. Such inconsiderate drivers should be heavily penalised for illegal parking, causing obstruction and endangering pedestrians. The Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya should step up its enforcement against these law breakers. Another alternative is to put up bollards or rails to prevent vehicles from parking on the pavements. However, the pavements needs to be widened to 1200 mm to conform to the MS 1184 and MS 1331. It is a tight fit for wheelchair in its current form at 900 mm.