Since news of Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announcement of the dissolution of the Parliament, the Malaysian blogosphere has been abuzz with posts talking about the impending election. If the sentiment of pings in blog aggregators is a measure of the popularity of the incumbent party, things are truly not looking good for Barisan Nasional.
Many blogs that pinged Project Petaling Street on the election are critical of the fact that the Prime Minister made an about turn on his announcement a day earlier that he would not dissolve the Parliament today. They have also advised the electorate to cast their ballot wisely neither openly throwing their support for the Barisan Nasional nor the coalition made up of former opposition parties but we all sort of know where these bloggers will mark in their ballot papers, do we not?
The question is how much influence does the Malaysian blogosphere has, or the respective bloggers have for that matter, in influencing the votes? Some of the people that I spoke to offered that it may have a bearing on urban votes but rural votes are another story altogether. Whatever it is, how effective bloggers and blogs are in swaying support and bringing in the votes in this general election will all be known in due time. My take is that the real battle is still out there in the real world. The reach of blogs in Malaysia is still very limited to have a meaningful impact on the election . What say you?
On November 26, 2007, I blogged the following:
Is the OKU Card issued by the Department of Social Welfare not good enough? Why is there a need to inconvenience applicants by asking them to get certification from government doctors or the Health Ministry as well? That is not all! Why in heaven’s name do they need a photo showing the impaired anatomy? This is ridiculous. This is disregarding the dignity of disabled people. What? The doctor’s report is not good enough also? The OKU Card is not valid? The people in RapidPenang think the officers in the Department of Social Welfare do not know what they are doing?
Do the people in RapidPenang know what physical disability is in the first place? Can they determine that from a photograph? I am disabled from my chest down. Do I need to pose in the nude to prove it should I intend to apply for the card? Furthermore, why burden disabled people by asking them to incur extra expenditure in getting their anatomy photographed?
If RapidPenang is sincere in giving out concession fare to disabled people, they should make the process as simple as possible. An OKU Card issued by the Department of Social Welfare should be sufficient. I believe RapidPenang’s intention is to alleviate the financial burden faced by disabled people. This noble effort is spoilt by overzealous people that are not in touch with disability issues or have never met disabled persons before. Shame on you RapidPenang for degrading the dignity of disabled people.
After much protest from the disabled community in Penang, Rapid Penang finally revoked the condition for a photograph showing the body part of physical disability. This was conveyed through a mailing list. Rapid Penang also informed members of the mailing list that they have issued a statement to the media regarding this issue but I could not find the news report online. Nevertheless, Rapid Penang still made it mandatory for disabled people who want discounted fares to apply for the concession card.
For two consecutive days since yesterday, The Star published two news reports that senior citizens and disabled people who are registered with the Department of Social Welfare need only to show the OKU card to enjoy half fare on RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses. This should have been the case in the beginning. Who were the smart alecks in the Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad, RapidKL and Rapid Penang who imposed the previous conditions that only the concession card holders were eligible for discounted fares? After all that fuss, now all disabled people need to do is to flash the OKU card. What a waste of time and resources for everyone involved in the exercise.
But, do not be mistaken that disabled people can ride the RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses. Wheelchair users are still not allowed to board the RapidKL buses with the wheelchair logo that are running in the streets now. This is because the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) refused to give the go-ahead to RapidKL to endorse the buses due to safety concerns regarding the ramps and wheelchair docking systems. The buses were supposed to be officially launched by a minister on June 1, 2007. So now we have buses that were fitted with accessible features at great cost that wheelchair users cannot use. As far as I know BEAT has washed its hands off working with RapidKL on this issue and prefer to concentrate on AirAsia.
As for Rapid Penang, disabled people were informed that 40 of the 150 buses operated by the bus company had ramps for wheelchair users initially. Unfortunately, according to Rapid Penang, the bus stops were damaging the ramps and they had to be dismantled to avoid further damage to the buses. This is evidence of another slipshod work by the people involved. I believe no study was done to ascertain the condition of the bus stops and other infrastructure before the buses were fitted with the ramps. In addition to that, there is no communication between the bus operators, namely RapidKL and Rapid Penang with local authorities to come to an agreement on the standard design of bus stops and all connecting pathways to the bus stops to make them accessible and complement each other.
There was also talk that Rapid Penang will bring in another 100 buses with facilities for wheelchair users. If I am not mistaken, these buses were slated to be put on the road by the end of 2007. We are already into the second month of 2008 but no such buses are in sight. Disabled people have been disappointed again and again by one too many sweet assurances such as this. Despite all the hard work by disabled people and a small group of concerned supporters advocating for accessible buses in Penang, there is no hint that such buses will be made available in the near future.
Wheelchair users in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are still left out from the public transport system. There is no way to move around conveniently. To put it crudely, disabled people have been conned once again. Lets not talk about a masyarakat penyayang when there was never any sincerity in looking after the interests and welfare of disabled people in the first place. All my entries on RapidKL and Rapid Penang are ample proof of it. So what if I have the OKU card? So what if I can get 50% discount with it? There is no way I can ride on these buses. I would not mind being charged the full fare if the buses are wheelchair-friendly. But none are. Truly, disabled people have been taken for a ride over and over again. Apa macam Pak Lah?
Saturday February 9, 2008
MYT 8:13:36 PM
By K. SUTHAKAR
PENANG: Effective Monday, senior citizens and the disabled registered with the Social Welfare Department need only show the identification cards issued by the department when travelling on Rapid Penang and RapidKL buses to get a 50% discount.
To reduce red tape, the Government has done away with the requirement for them to apply for the Rapid Card, issued by the companies.
“We want to simplify things. It is sufficient for them to show the card issued by the department to obtain the 50% ticket concession,” said Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.
He was speaking to reporters at the St Nicholas’ Home here on Saturday.
Rapid Penang chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad, who was with him, said it takes about two weeks for the company to process each card application.
He said about 10,000 senior citizens and 400 disabled people travelled daily on Rapid Penang buses.
Nor Mohamed said the problems that prompted the one-day strike by Rapid Penang bus drivers last Monday had been resolved.
“It is a small problem. When there is a problem, we look at it positively and resolve the matter quickly,” he said.
Thousands of bus commuters rushing for work and last-minute Chinese New Year shopping were left stranded on Tuesday when the drivers brought transport to a standstill.
Sunday February 10, 2008
PENANG: From tomorrow, the disabled and senior citizens registered with the Social Welfare Depart-ment need only to show their identity card issued by the department to enjoy half fares on Rapid Penang and RapidKL buses.
To reduce red tape, the Govern-ment has done away with the requirement for them to apply for the Rapid Card issued by the companies.
“We want to simplify things. It is sufficient for them to show the card issued by the department to obtain a 50% ticket concession,” Second Fi-nance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop told reporters during his visit to the St Nicholas Home here yesterday.
The general election is just around the corner. So blares the mainstream media day in day out for the past few weeks. That is also what Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi likes us to think. I read in The Star today where he said no any one race will be left behind in the nation’s mainstream development. In another report, he said that “the national development agenda is to bring extensive improvement to the living standards of the people.”
I salute Datuk Seri Abdullah’s statements. I sincerely hope he makes good those promises. Disabled people have been sidelined in all areas of the nation’s development since independence. These deficiencies are so apparent that it does not take much to discover how much disabled people in Malaysia are marginalised in all areas of our lives. Look around and you will realise how tough it is for disabled people to live their lives as compared to non-disabled people.
Disability transcends all ethnic, age and gender boundaries. It does not discriminate whether one is a Malay, Chinese, Indian or of any other ethnicity. Nevertheless, disabled people is the group that is most left behind in mainstream society. That happens because disabled people are not considered part of mainstream society. If anybody dare say this is not so, I ask that he try to live one day in a wheelchair to go to work and move around in the city using public transport.
Mainstreaming disability is the inclusion of disabled people in all levels of the society. Disabled people should not be considered as an aberration of society and that their needs are separate. The barriers that prevent them from being active participants in society should be removed. The problems that they are facing should be seen as the problems of society and not separated and segregated as special needs. Disability is not other people’s problem. It is our problem as everybody, including ourselves and our loved ones, has the potential to become disabled.
The present day government has not done enough to mainstream disability. The existence of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A) that was gazetted in the 1990s has been ignored by most local authorities. There is no enforcement to compel developers to include safe and functional accessible facilities in their projects. This deprives disabled people the opportunity to move around public places conveniently. This matter is under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government where Dato’ Seri Ong Ka Ting is the minister. The sad thing is that even some of the newest buildings do not conform to the provisions of the UBBL 34A. The people responsible to enforce it are obviously not doing their job.
The promise to provide accessible public transport was a knee jerk reaction to the protest by the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT). The ramps and wheelchair docking systems were so shabbily done that it is apparent RapidKL was never truly interested in running a public transport service for disabled people. BEAT’s meeting with Deputy Minister of Finance Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen and Minister of Transport Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy did not produce any result although they have promised to look into it. Dato’ Seri Chan, whatever happened to the National Transport Master Plan that was supposed to meet the needs of disabled people? I want to stress that these buses will also be convenient for senior citizens, pregnant women, adults with prams and children. It is not solely for the use of disabled persons.
Likewise, RapidPenang and the people involved in it lied through their teeth when they publicly announced that the buses would be “disabled-friendly.” Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop was reported by The Star on March 19, 2007 to have said that RapidPenang buses would be disabled-friendly. In my many trips back to Penang, I have neither seen any accessible buses nor heard from wheelchair users that they have used such buses.
Datuk Teng Hock Nan is another politician who is not in touch with disability issues. He had said that boarding wheelchair users would delay bus schedules. He had also said that a survey has to be conducted first to determine the areas that disabled people live in and the places that they travel to before RapidPenang would introduce “disabled-friendly” buses but the bus company would service rural routes even if the passenger head count is low. Does Datuk Teng not know that disabled people live all over in the state of Penang and that we want to go to places that other people go to? Why the double standard in serving disabled people as compared to people living in rural areas? Just in case you are not aware, Datuk Teng, I would like to inform you that the statement reeks of discrimination.
The Persons with Disabilities Bill was passed in the Parliament recently. Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Dato’ Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil admitted that this piece of legislation is non-punitive in nature. What that means is that if you discriminate against me based on my disability, there is nothing in that piece of law that says that you cannot do it or that you can be taken to a court of law for doing it. So what is this law for? Frankly, I have no idea.
For this impending 12th General Election, I will throw my support around any political party or individual who promises to work towards making Malaysia an inclusive and fair society for everyone. This person must respect the dignity and rights of disabled people based on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. If UMNO and Barisan Nasional want the votes of disabled people, the parties must first remove Datuk Badruddin Amiruldin from the list of candidates. He is offensive and has no respect for disabled people.
Candidates putting themselves up for election must be serious in making the education system, public transport and built environment accessible, among others. This is important as the first step to improve our standard of living which at best had been below the national average for decades. He must also provide the necessary support system to severely disabled people for them to live independently in the community.
He must never treat disabled people as charity cases by dishing out small token of money and consider it helping us. Disabled people do not need charity. We want a commitment in the equalization of opportunities so that we are on a level playing field with the society at large in matters of education, employment and accessibility. We can be productive and live independently with the right support and infrastructure. Most of all, the candidate must do this from the sincerity of his heart. I know of politicians who work with disabled people simply because they want the publicity.
Incumbents and aspiring politicians should take note and not ignore the potential support from disabled people during this general election. We are not one disabled person with one vote. We have families and friends who understand our grouses and support our causes. We have the ability to make those votes count for candidates who are serious in resolving our problems. The message is very simple: Work for us and we will vote for you.