Misleading signs – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 15 November, 2015

Misleading signs
November 15, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan, mail@petertan.com


HAVE you driven around in an unfamiliar area, depending on the road signs to lead you to your intended destination, only to find that you are hopelessly lost and totally disoriented in a strange place? Well, there is no need to be embarrassed. You are not alone.

This is not a matter of men too proud to ask for directions or women being better navigators. Women and men friends alike have had to call for directions when visiting me for the first time. My house is located between several arterial roads with heavy traffic during rush hours. There are plenty of road signs along the way but they would somehow end up a few housing estates away.

Simply put, Malaysian road signs are notorious for being unreliable. Many times I have overshot exits on the highway because there are no proper signs to forewarn of them. Other times, they were placed too close to the slip roads and by the time I saw them, it was too late to slow down to take the turn.

There were instances of overgrown trees obscuring entire signs. It also doesn’t help that we have a penchant for changing British-era road names to that of local personalities. The need to replace a road name that has been in use for half a century is beyond me. This adds to the confusion for someone who has no inkling the names have been changed.

I have been driving around the Klang Valley for the past nine years but still get lost occasionally even with the aid of a GPS navigation device or Waze. I once missed an exit and had to drive 20km to get back to the same point. Luckily for me, I still made it in time for the important appointment. Nowadays, I make it a point to leave one hour earlier for appointments at places I have never been to just in case I lose my way.

Road signs are simple but crucial for way finding, safety and to provide information about facilities and services available along the route. There is even a multilateral treaty known as the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals to facilitate international uniformity of road signs, signals and symbols and road markings.

Likewise, signboards are essential in public spaces. Their importance is always overlooked. We pass by them all the time at train stations, airports and shopping malls without giving much thought about their purpose until we need to use a toilet or an escalator.

A young man approached me a few days ago while I was waiting for the lift and asked if I knew where the parking ticket machine was. My car was parked in another building. I had no idea where the machine in this particular building was located.

Trying to be helpful, and clever, I hazarded a guess and directed him to another floor where I presumed the machine was only to realise a short while later this particular car park has a manned booth at the exit. I felt guilty for sending him on a wild goose chase and went back to look for him but he was nowhere in sight.

The man’s futile search could have been avoided had the management of the car park put up signs at strategic points to inform drivers where they could pay. Little touches like this are a convenience, and can save a lot of time and legwork. This is particularly true of large buildings where amenities are spread out. The medical centre I go to for my quarterly check-up is a huge complex of many interconnected buildings. Each time I am referred to a doctor of another speciality, I would get lost in the maze of corridors looking for the clinic. The directional signs are not of much help as they point in all directions, making little sense.

Putting some thought into the design and placement of signs can ensure their usefulness. The text must be concise and easy to read from a distance. Symbols can be used in place of text but they must be universally understandable. Using fancy symbols that make no sense would serve no purpose except to confuse people who are looking for a specific facility or place.

Most importantly, signboards with information on emergency situations in buildings should be placed prominently and include formats that different disabled people can access, like Braille and audio. Exit paths for wheelchair users and people with other mobility impairments should be clearly indicated to facilitate an orderly evacuation if there is a need.

I wish the people responsible for putting up signboards, be it on roads or buildings will take more care in designing and installing them. They should put themselves in the shoes of people who depend on these signs to find where they want to go quickly and easily. If only they knew how frustrating it was for those who diligently followed the signs and ended up somewhere else.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/15/misleading-signs/#ixzz3uN7hCLqF

The pursuit of happiness – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 7 November, 2015

The pursuit of happiness
November 7, 2015, Saturday Peter Tan, mail@petertan.com

Happiness is a choice. This I learnt through along tumultuous journey.

When I was a mere child, I was given the impression that life would be complete with good health and great wealth. I was taught to kneel before the altar every morning and evening to pray that my parents would live to a ripe old age and make lots of money.

I was also taught to pray for myself to be studious and pass all my exams with flying colours. With that drummed into me at an impressionable age, I grew up believing if I prayed hard enough, I would do well academically, get into a profession that paid well and the money would come rolling in.

When I became paralysed, I thought it was the end for me. Many nights, when I was alone, my suppressed sobs broke the quietness in the bedroom as I mourned for all the things I could never do again and all the money I could never earn.

It didn’t help that disability was portrayed as a tragedy and disabled people as despondent and helpless. I bought into that and saw my paralysis as an illness and a barrier that prevented me from making something out of my life. As I gradually recovered, I tried to move on but I was perpetually enveloped by a cloud of sadness.

There was always a reason to be miserable. I saw my schoolmates graduating and building their careers one by one, then getting married and having families of their own. I looked at myself and saw no future. What could a man with such crippling impairments as mine ever achieve? The more I thought about it, the more depressed I got.

The discontentment I experienced was as debilitating to the spirit as my impairments were to my independence. I was never satisfied. How could I when I had to depend on other people for the simplest of tasks? Even after I came to terms with the permanence of my condition, I still suffered from moodiness and depression. It was awful. I would do nothing but brooded all day long.

This went on for many years until I seriously got involved in the field of training. I took a step back and took stock of my life. It was then I grasped the extent I have allowed myself to be consumed by episodes of discontentment. It had gone on for such a long time that I didn’t know how else to feel. I was always focusing on what I couldn’t do rather than what I have achieved.

With a steadily deteriorating kidney disease and an uncertain mortality, I asked myself if I wanted to continue to live a life filled with unhappiness or look at the brighter side and celebrate what I have left. Being sad all the time was emotionally draining. It takes the same effort to be sad or happy. And I decided I wanted to be happy.

The food tasted better with this change. Everything I was doing became meaningful. I found contentment in the smallest of things. My dour appearance was replaced by a cheery smile. It felt as if a burden that had been holding me down for years was suddenly lifted off my chest.

I realised no one can make me happy except myself. Likewise, no one can make me feel sad or angry if I don’t allow it. My perspective of a situation determined my frame of mind. When I didn’t succeed in an endeavour, I could either look at it as a failure or as a lesson and an opportunity to be better the next time. Now, I take the latter path. Although I still feel bad for not giving my best, I am consoled by the fact that I will not make the same mistakes again in the future trainings I conduct.

We often hear people say they want to be happy and equate that with getting a new car, a designer handbag or the newest smartphone. In my experience, bought happiness doesn’t last. I have gotten many things to cheer myself up whenever I felt down. When I did that, I discovered I had to continuously feed myself with material things to keep feeling good. It is true that money can’t buy happiness, well, not in the long term anyway.

Happiness doesn’t come from possessing but by letting go. It is not about having all we want but being contented with that we have. It is not a goal to be achieved but has always been there for the taking. We can be happy even in the direst of circumstances. Happiness is a choice we make. All it requires is some practice in changing of the mind-set. It must be a conscious decision. We must want it to get it.

Martha Washington, the wife of the first president of the United States, said it best when she wrote, “I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstances but by our disposition.”

Now that I have made my choice, my chronic health issues and my physical limitations have become less significant and doesn’t trouble me as much as they used to. I wish I had found out about this earlier instead of having to spend half of my life wallowing in sadness and misery. Still, it is never too late. I have chosen happiness and that is how I will live come hell or high water.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/07/the-pursuit-of-happiness/#ixzz3uN7LIUGi

Educating Janna – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 1 November, 2015

Educating Janna
November 1, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan, mail@petertan.com

“WHY should I pay for my child’s education while others get it free? I also pay tax what!” Rafidah Rafizah Ahmad said in exasperation.

We were chatting about the Budget 2016 announced by the Prime Minister recently, the rising cost of living, and the state of education for disabled people in the country. Her 10-year-old daughter, Izdihar Janna, has cerebral palsy. It is a condition of the brain that affects movement, coordination, posture and learning.

“Her education fees alone costs RM2,000 per month in total,” she continued. “Tuition costs another RM100.”

According to Rafidah, some mainstream classes in public schools do accept those who are physically disabled. However, this is at the discretion of the school management and normally only those with mobility impairments are accepted, especially those with good hand function and no speech problem.

With such few options left, parents have to move from one place to another to look for a mainstream school that is willing to accept their child. Even then, if they manage to find one, there are no teaching assistants to support the student who may require additional help in their learning and tasks.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 to 2025 has provisions to cater to students with specific needs such as those with physical and learning disabilities. These include the support by a network of counsellors, therapists and teaching assistants. However, these have yet to be translated into practice.

“Schools here don’t have integrated therapies. I either have to take her to the hospital or private therapists. She will have to skip classes on those days as a result,” Rafidah added as she mused over the quality of education in Malaysia for children like Janna.

She had approached some schools where she requested the teachers to help recommend Janna into a mainstream class or at the very least partially inclusive class but was left disappointed each time.

When Janna was 7 years old, she joined the Special Education Integration Programme (PPKI). The teachers left her alone doing nothing during writing lessons and outdoor activities because they were not trained in handling children with cerebral palsy specifically and on the usage of assistive devices. Janna felt isolated and cried each time she had to go to school.

With her daughter’s wellbeing affected like that, Rafidah decided to transfer her to another school further away but runs the same programme. By the end of Standard 2, one of the better teachers was transferred out only to be replaced by one that did not show much commitment to the welfare of his charges. The students were mostly left idling in the class.

As a last resort, she decided to enrol Janna into a private school near to where they lived. Although the fees are expensive, there are occupational therapists and physiotherapists in addition to teachers for academic subjects where Janna is given one-to-one attention. She got to learn new skills like music and recite the Koran, among others.

In between attending private school, Janna also joins a centre that provides Conductive Education, known as CE in short. This is a system that utilises a wholesome programme of learning and playing that involves physical, intellectual and social activities.

“Janna loves it because it is fun,” Rafidah shared. “Both private school and CE curriculums complement each other and make the brain work better.”

“The only problem is that CE clashes with her classes in school. Janna’s classes are in the afternoon because she has many other activities in the morning like therapy appointments, horse riding and boccia.”

With a tight schedule like that for such a young girl, I asked Rafidah if she is overloading her daughter.

“She enjoys them,” she said. “There are days for her to relax too. I have already consulted a clinical psychologist about her schedule. We were accessed whether Janna is under- or over-stimulated. So far, it is still manageable.”

Giving a disabled child a good education and a better quality of life needs commitment, especially patience, time and money. Rafidah left her promising career as an engineer to devote her time on Janna’s education, co-curricular activities and treatments.

The RM700 that she spends monthly on petrol and another RM200 on toll are an indication of the distance she has to travel. Hydrotherapy sessions cost another few hundred. That doesn’t include rehabilitation equipment and other incidental expenses yet. When added together, all that amount to a princely sum.

On why she is doing all these, Rafidah has this to say: “I want her to be able to live life to the fullest. I want her to know the basic activities of daily living to survive in the real world like reading, mathematics and money management.”

“If she wants to be a teacher like she aspires to be, she needs to have all these skills. These are things she can’t even learn from public schools. Therefore, I have to send her to places where she can learn, even if I have to pay for it.”

She feels that the government can do better in the provision of support system for disabled students. Apart from making public education inclusive as stated in the education blueprint, accessible school bus service should be available to make it convenient for parents who are working. Therapies should also be included in the curriculum so that students don’t have to miss classes every other day.

To sum it up, every child has a right to get an education. The onus is on the government to ensure this is realised. At the moment, parents who can afford it resort to sending their disabled children to expensive private schools because public schools are unable to provide the necessary support. The lack of trained teachers, teacher’s aides and the infrastructure are among the issues that need to be addressed.

The government should not be talking about setting an employment quota of 1 per cent for disabled people in the civil service when we cannot even provide the basic foundation for disabled children to get a decent education. What kind of jobs can one get in the public sector without relevant academic qualifications?

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/01/educating-janna/#ixzz3uN6hahmc