The state of accessible facilities
Posted on February 23, 2013, Saturday
FREE TO MOVE ABOUT: The street environment, public buildings, trains, monorails and buses in Japan are all accessible to the disabled.
THROUGHOUT the 28 years that I have been using a wheelchair, I have always faced significant problems whenever I am out and about. The built environment and public transport system in Malaysia are severely lacking in accessible facilities. That is the main reason I do not go out as often as I wish to.
The enactment of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A) has not changed the situation much. This by-law requires that public buildings built after it came into force provide access for disabled people. Buildings built before its commencement must be retrofitted with such facilities within three years.
More than 15 years after the by-law was gazetted by the various states, disabled people still face the same problems in public buildings. All the local governments, the bodies responsible for implementing the by-law, must take the blame for not strictly enforcing it after so many years.
While newer buildings having better facilities, they are far and few in between. Moreover, there is a lack of connectivity in the form of walkways and public transport between these buildings, making them “islands of accessibility in an ocean of barriers”.
In this respect, the UBBL 34A should ideally include the requirement for the street environment to be made barrier-free as well to ensure an uninterrupted passage from point to point. There should also be a law to make public transport accessible. At the moment, these two are the missing links in the circle of mobility that hampers the free movement of disabled people.
This is in sharp contrast to Japan where I spent two weeks attending training on independent living with two other wheelchair users from Malaysia. The infrastructure there was mostly barrier-free. The street environment, public buildings, trains, monorails and buses were all accessible to disabled people.
I could move from place to place conveniently without the fear of being stranded halfway. The two weeks there for me was like being in paradise. For the first time in my life as a wheelchair user, I experienced an unprecedented sense of liberation. I was like a bird suddenly set free from the confines of a small cage.
In the mornings, a van with wheelchair lift would pick us
up from the apartment where we were staying to take us to the Human Care Association in the city of Hachioji for our lectures. This is the first independent living centre in Japan. It was established in 1986.
In the evenings, we went back to the apartment by train and monorail. All the stations are equipped with elevators and stair lifts, and also portable ramps for wheelchair users to get on and off the trains. Walkways are paved with tactile tiles to guide blind people. The entire journey was so seamless that I could actually travel by myself without assistance if I so desired.
The day after I returned to Kuala Lumpur, I went around the city. What awaited me was a reverse culture shock. Every step of the way was fraught with barriers. I could not get into buses and LRT stations. Broken pavements and the lack of kerb ramps made moving about extremely gruelling even with assistance from my girlfriend. Truth be told, I had to struggle for a while trying to adjust to life back home.
I am not alone in facing these difficulties. Disabled people all over the country have been experiencing the same problems for decades. Our mobility is severely restricted. Our quality of life is affected as a result.
Without a barrier-free environment, we are unable to get out from our homes safely. Without accessible public transport, we are unable to move around conveniently.
We lose out on education which in turn limits our employment opportunities. Without work, we have to
depend on our family for support. This cascading effect strains our families’ financial resources and lowers productivity all round.
Malaysia boasts of building world-class infrastructure like the North-South Expressway, Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the upcoming Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit. These projects are all very impressive by any standards.
However, they mean nothing to disabled people when accessible facilities in all the cities and major towns leave much to be desired. From Kuala Lumpur to Kuching to Kota Kinabalu and to George Town, disabled people are hard pressed to move around freely like I did in Tokyo. There are simply too many obstacles all over the place.
The right to access and use these facilities is recognised in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. Furthermore, Malaysia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that acknowledges those same rights. As a member state to the convention, Malaysia is bound to ensure that disabled people have access on an equal basis with others to these facilities.
Malaysia can easily make the built environment and public transport system inclusive of disabled people. We have the resources and expertise to achieve it. All it takes is to expand the relevant laws and the political will to put those laws into action. And in the absence of that will, the powers must be held legally responsible for failing to uphold their commitment to protect the rights of disabled people.
Comments can reach the writer via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Jabatan Pembangunan Orang Kurang Upaya (JPOKU) in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) organised the Seminar Sokongan Pekerjaan Kepada Orang Kurang Upaya (Seminar on Supported Employment for Persons with Disabilities) at Avillion Legacy Melaka in Melaka today.
This state-level seminar for Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor was attended by about 180 participants comprising staff from Community Based Rehabilitation centres and employers planning to recruit disabled persons, among others.
This seminar provides exposure and awareness to the public and potential employers on the approach used in supported employment for disabled persons. Current employers were also at hand to share their experience on supported employment and job coaching. It was also an opportunity for cooperation between the various governmental agencies involved in this project and the private sector.
I was invited to facilitate the first session on Disability Equality Training titled “What is Disability?” Ivy Pua supported me as the co-facilitator. This seminar is similar to the one in Kuching where I conducted the same session for participants from all over Sarawak.
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First article for the Breaking Barriers column in The Borneo Post by Peter Tan.
Image courtesy of Phyllis Wong.
by Peter Tan. Posted on February 16, 2013, Saturday
IT all happened one sunny day in October 1984. I dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool. My head hit the floor causing a compression fracture of the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae. A piece of bone broke off and cut into my spinal cord.
Paralysis was instant. I floated face down in the water, unable to stand up or even lift my head above the water to breathe. As my lungs ran out of air, all the things that I have done and images of my parents flashed before my eyes. If not for my classmates who rescued me, I would have drowned.
The full impact of the injury only dawned on me when I was examined at the hospital. There was no sensation from my upper chest down. My arms were weak. I could not move my fingers. I did not know where my legs were.
As my mother was feeding me in the hospital one evening, I wondered if the rest of my life was going to pan out like that, having to depend on her to clean, feed and do everything else for me. What would become of me?
The doctor’s prognosis was depressing. He indicated that there was a very slim chance of me ever being able to walk again. My mother held my limp hand as we openly cried at the great tragedy that had befallen me.
The doctor put me on skull traction for eight weeks. It was to realign my spine. When that failed, I had to undergo a four-hour surgery to remove the bone fragment and have the two vertebrae fused together for strength.
I was 18 then. I was in Form 6. My parents had great plans for me. My father had wanted me to become an electrical engineer. I had no idea what I wanted to be. That tragic accident put paid to whatever ambitions they had for me.
They never once asked me what happened in the pool. Silently, my father blamed himself for the accident. I was given a place in a mainstream school but he made me enrol in a private school. That, he reasoned, allowed me to spend too much time at the swimming pool resulting in the accident.
The doctor sent me home after four months in hospital. Although I regained back some sensation and strength in the limbs, it was not enough to allow me to be independent. My mother had to help me with most of my activities of daily living.
For five years, I underwent intensive physiotherapy and exercised hard at home, hoping against hope that I could walk again. When that did not work out, I resigned myself to the fate that I would remain in the helpless condition I was in, always having to depend on other people even for the simplest of tasks.
One relative told me straight to the face that I was still in a wheelchair because I was lazy. A friend said that I did not have enough willpower to get well again. There was even a suggestion to put me inside a burning building to literally make me stand up and run for my life: “just like in the movies”.
Perhaps, they were right. If I had put in more effort, I really could be walking again. I really wanted to try harder but my body could not take it any more. My back and right knee were already injured from overexertion.
After my mother passed away, I had a domestic helper to cook, clean and do laundry. When she left two years later, I attempted to live by myself. It was hard work even though I had occasional help from the neighbours.
Cooking took up most of my time. I practically did not have the strength to do anything else after I had cleaned up. That was the most trying time of my life.
In 2005, a couple of disabled friends suggested that I attend an Independent Living Programme workshop organised by the Welfare Department and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
I thought I could finally learn how to perform household chores and live by myself more efficiently. To my disappointment, the workshop taught none of those skills. However, the two disabled resources persons from Japan opened up my mind to a totally different meaning of independent living.
I was selected to undergo further training in Tokyo after that workshop. The two weeks in Japan gave me a deep insight into how disabled people there live a dignified and productive life.
They have personal assistants providing the necessary support for their activities of daily living which include toileting, cooking, feeding, household chores and even assistance at work.
Together with a very accessible built environment and public transport system, even the most severely impaired persons were able to lead a fulfilling life, be gainfully employed and realise full participation in society.
That experience changed my misconception that being in a wheelchair was condemnation to a life of misery. From seeing myself as a helpless person, I turned into a change agent, working with other disabled activists to influence society to be more inclusive.
After more than two decades of trials and tribulations, at the age of 40, I finally discovered what I want to be! And I invite you to take this journey with me to make Malaysia, and the world for that matter, a better place for everyone.
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Link to the article: http://www.theborneopost.com/2013/02/16/second-chances/