Busy As A Bee

One thing I like about being busy with work is that I have no time to brood which I am very apt to. An idle mind is a devil’s workshop, so they say. This and the previous month have been an especially busy period with several speaking engagements and working on a few new blogs that I am building.

There are also a couple of entries that I would like to post but have not found the time to write yet. Hopefully, I will be able to do that when I have finished preparing materials for the Disability Equality Training (DET) that I will be conducting in Kelantan next weekend. Right now, it is all a rush as I try to wrap up the preparations before Friday.

In the meantime, do check out the two blogs that I have been working on – Softly Whispering is a photoblog of the favourite images that I have taken while Delicious Food in Malaysia is a repository of food and ingredients that have shaped my appetite through the years. The links for both blogs are available on the right sidebar of the main page.

The other site that I have been busy with is the Asia Pacific Disability Equality Forum. This site is developed by Dr. Kenji Kuno of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It is a treasure trove of resources on DET and provides a list of DET trainers from eleven countries in this region.

More disabled-friendly public transport ordered: The Star – April 14, 2009

The following is an excerpt from the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 (Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008):

Access to public transport facilities

27. (1) Persons with disabilities shall have the right to access to and use of public transport facilities, amenities and services open or provided to the public on equal basis with persons without disabilities.

The issue about access to public transport for disabled people has been left lingering since the time disabled people came out to protest against Star LRT for barring us from taking the trains in 1994. More recently, when Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy was the Minister of Transport he had a meeting with disabled people at his ministry where he announced that all public transport will be made accessible. My friend Robert Wang and I approached Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat in August 2008 regarding the same issue when he came to Pandan Perdana to officiate an event at the Pandan Lake.

Today, The Star reported that Minister of Transport Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat has directed agencies under the Ministry to provide accessible facilities. It is time the Ministry of Transport stop dilly dallying with lip service only to this long standing issue and work together with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to look for ways to resolve it for once and for all.

The article quoted the Minister of Transport as saying that he had come across some cases where physically-challenged individuals struggled to get onto public transport. Struggling is an understatement. For wheelchair users, it is an impossibility. It is physically challenging for us all right. These challenges are created by a non-inclusive public transport and casued by the lack of enforcement of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A.

The government has acknowledged that access to public transport is a right for disabled people. So why are accessible facilities still not provided in this area? How long more do disabled people have to wait to be able to use public transport? And whatever happened to the Master Plan on Public Transportation Policy commissioned by the Ministry of Transport on 2008 under the Abdullah administration?

The Star Online
Home > News > Nation

Tuesday April 14, 2009
More disabled-friendly public transport ordered

KUALA LUMPUR: Agencies under the Transport Ministry, including KTM Bhd, have been directed to come out with more facilities to make it easier for the disabled who use public transport.

Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat said yesterday there was still room for improvement in the facilities provided for the physically-challenged.

“We are aware that a lot of public transport facilities do not take their needs into consideration.

“At the fourth quarter of last year, I instructed several agencies under my ministry to take into account the needs of these individuals,” he told reporters after opening the KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled in Bandar Baru Ampang here yesterday.

Overcoming obstacles: (From right) Resorts World Bhd deputy chairman Tun Hanif Omar sealing a packet of roasted green peas in the presence of Ong and Resorts World Bhd executive director Tan Sri Alwi Jantan during the opening of the KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled in Bandar Baru Ampang in Kuala Lumpur.

Ong, who is the patron of the centre, said he had instructed the agencies to speed up the process.

“I wish to see the public transport system, whether it is under the purview of my ministry or other ministries, to take this matter seriously.

“I know it is not easy and there are a lot of obstacles but we must endeavour to overcome the challenges,” he said.

Ong said he had come across some cases where physically-challenged individuals struggled to get onto public transport.

“I do not think it is fair.”

Earlier in his speech, Ong said physically-challenged individuals needed assistance not in the form of welfare.

“They need help in the terms of training opportunities to excel in life and to compete with others. These are the key parameters that we should set our sights on,” he said.

The KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled is set up by Resorts World Bhd and Kelab Kercergasan Ampang Jaya to give disabled people a chance to acquire skills and to earn an income for themselves.

The centre provides training in paper lamination, document binding and food packaging.

Inclusive Tourism And The Advocacy For Accessible Facilities

The advocacy for accessibility in the built environment has been ongoing for at least twenty years in Malaysia assuming we began from the time the Malaysian Standards MS 1184: Code of Practice for Access for Disabled Persons to Public Buildings and MS 1331: Code of Practice for Access of Disabled Persons Outside Buildings were first drafted.

By-law 34A of the Uniform Building By-Law (UBBL 34A) gazetted separately by the various state governments in the 1990s has done little to change the scenario. UBBL 34A requires that all new buildings provide access for disabled people. Buildings that do not have such facilities when the by-law came into force must provide them within three years.

No doubt new buildings such as shopping complexes have a certain degree of accessibility, these are far and few in between. These buildings by themselves are islands in an ocean of barriers. It is difficult for disabled people to get to these places as there is lack of connectivity in the form of accessible pedestrain facilities and public transport.

One of the excuses given often for lack of accessible facilities is budget. The federal government does not have the budget. The state governments do not have the budget. Municipal governments do not have the budget. To exacerbate the situation, municipal governments who are responsible for the approval of building plans do not have the expertise to ensure that MS 1184 is strictly adhered to.

It is all about money. As long as providing accessible public facilities do not generate revenue, there is little reason for the government to spend money on it. From the way I see it, if the disabled people’s movement in Malaysia continue to advocate the way we are used to, come next fifty years, we will still be complaining about the same issue.

Disabled people need to come out with a fresh angle to advocate. We have evolved from advocating solely for disabled people to embrace a wider circle of people who may find such facilities convenient. These include senior citizens, pregnant women, adults with prams and children. This is a good strategy but obviously is not sufficient to move the powers that be.

Advocates for accessibility should seriously consider promoting the idea of inclusive tourism in Malaysia. Tourism is a major industry in this country. According to Tourism Malaysia, 22 million tourist came to Malaysia in 2008 generating a total receipt of RM49,561.2 million.

Inclusive tourism applies the principles of Universal Design to allow the participation of the broadest range of tourists, principally disabled people. However, other categories of tourists like senior citizens may find this form of tourism convenient due to the accessible facilities.

Accessible tourism will definitely benefit the economy by tapping into groups of tourists who do not usually consider Malaysia as a destination previously due to the barriers that we have here. The facilities in turn will benefit disabled people locally. At the same time, it will also spur dosmetic tourism for disabled people as there are presently limited options in travelling to other countries due to the same issues.

I truly feel that this is a strategy worth looking into. We have not gained much all the years that we have advocated for accessibility. If this does not work, we have nothing much to lose anyway. In fact, the tourism industry in Malaysia as a whole has much to lose as more and more countries around the world move towards making their tourist destinations accessible should the powers that be continue to ignore this matter.