Disabled persons in this country are hard-pressed to believe that the government is concerned with the challenges they are facing. Despite countless pleas not to be left out in the nation’s progress, they are still struggling to cope with environmental and attitudinal barriers all the time. To add insult to injury, past mistakes are recreated in the present.
Rapid KL made a major blunder when they never took the needs of disabled persons into account and acquired non-accessible buses in 2004. Three years down the road, RapidPenang is making the same mistake when Penang State Local Government and Traffic Management Committee Chairman Datuk Dr. Teng Hock Nan announced that “for the time being, we will not be having special buses for the disabled who use wheelchairs.”
In respond to Dr. Teng’s statement, the Barrier-free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) called for a press conference on April 14 to dispel the misconception that disabled persons and wheelchair users need special buses. These so called “special buses” are in reality non-step buses that are widely used as public buses in Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. Apart from being accessible and having places for wheelchairs inside the buses, it is just like other regular buses that the public can use.
It will be a grave mistake and an act of discrimination against disabled persons on RapidPenang’s part in not providing such accessibility. Public buses have a lifespan of between ten to twenty years, depending on how well they are maintained. Do disabled persons have to wait another ten to twenty years? Why is the government not making an effort to get it right from the beginning now that they have the opportunity to do so?
Rapid KL Taking Disabled Persons For A Ride
On September 24, 2006, Katherine Chew, Senior Manager Corporate Communications Divisions of Rapid KL announced that “the transport company had bought 100 disabled-friendly buses with ramps. These would be delivered next month.” This was in response to the attempt by the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) members to board the new Rapid KL buses at the Bangsar LRT Station. BEAT is a coalition of sixteen NGOs of disabled persons.
When BEAT met with Rein Westra, Chief Executive Officer of Rapid KL, on October 20, 2006, we were asked to give him four weeks for him to present our issue to the government. We were also specifically warned not to go to the press during this period or he will stop all communications with us. We respected the moratorium that was unilaterally set by him. That was the last we saw of him. He never got back to us after that.
Six months later on March 10, 2007, BEAT was invited to a briefing and dialogue with Rapid KL Chief Operating Officer Mohd Ali Mohd Nor. During the briefing we were informed that the buses will be coming in stages. We were told that, to date, about forty have been delivered and are in various stages of being fitted with ramps, restraining systems and other safety features for wheelchair users.
However, we are still in the dark as to when the buses will be put on the road, the routes they will ply and how this is small number of accessible buses will fit into the bigger picture to fulfil the mobility needs of wheelchair users in the Klang Valley. BEAT has already waited for six months. We are still waiting. We cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel yet where the promised accessible buses are concerned. Apa macam Rapid KL?
Earthquake 2005 Revisited
So, there was another earthquake in Sumatra and we felt the tremors here in Malaysia. Are we ready to deal with large-scale evacuation and rescue should the tremors compromise the structural integrity of the skyscrapers here? Many commercial high-rise buildings hold regular emergency evacuation drills to prepare for such eventualities.
If one can walk, evacuating from these buildings is a matter of walking down the many flights of steps and to safety. What about those with mobility impairments? Using the elevators during a fire or after an earthquake is not recommended. Using the stairs is an impossibility. Where does that leave them? Do we have rescue personnel who are well-equipped and trained to handle such situations?
After the earthquake in March 29, 2005, I wrote a letter to Dato’ Seri Shahrizat and copied it to the relevant ministries and departments. Dato’ Shahrizat directed the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia to reply to the letter. The Chief Minister of Penang’s Office also sent a reply. And the matter ended there. I had expected the Kementerian Perumahan dan Kerajaan Tempatan and the Jabatan Bomba dan Penyelamat to look into my plight. If there really is no evacuation plan for people with mobility impairments one should be drawn up. Until now, I have not heard from them regarding this.
So, there was an earthquake yesterday. It reminded me of the tremors I experienced back in 2005. I was so frightened. I felt extremely helpless. My apartment was shaking very badly. I thought it would collapse at any moment. I could not evacuate. I thought about the plight of thousands of other people with mobility impairments who were staying in high-rise. Are we any better off now than we were in 2005? I guess not. We are stuck in our homes with no way out. Apa macam Malaysia?