It is difficult to get disabled people to come together to advocate on a common cause. Logistics is always a big problem due to the inaccessible public transport system. Apathy and complacency are among the other reasons.
We do come together nonetheless to work on various issues affecting the community, especially on access to public transport and buildings. There is a consensus that these advocacy activities must be inclusive of all disabled people irrespective of their impairments.
At the same time, other people who may be affected, like senior citizens, pregnant women and adults with prams, are also included. This is the kind of advocacy that I support, disabled people working towards a society that is truly inclusive of all.
I am appalled that some disabled drivers are asking for priority to use accessible parking over vehicles with disabled passengers. Their reasoning is that they need the extra space to unload and load their wheelchairs and that they are alone.
These disabled drivers have not taken into consideration the inconvenience such an “awareness campaign” will cause to the disabled passengers and their assistants who usually double-up as drivers too.
Wheelchairs for disabled passengers require as much space for loading and unloading as those for disabled drivers. Many disabled people do not drive due to the severity of their impairments. Having an assistant does not make it any easier. In fact, it is a heavy burden for the assistant who has to drive, park the vehicle, unload the wheelchair and help the disabled person transfer.
Distributing flyers asking that priority be given to disabled drivers and discouraging vehicles with disabled passengers from using accessible parking under the guise of creating awareness will only create more confusion as to who are entitled to those parking.
Disappointingly, some car parks already have such a policy in place. It may even move more car park managers to deny vehicles with disabled passengers from using accessible parking as “disabled people are asking for this so must be the right thing to do.”
Signboard at 1 Utama indicating accessible parking only for disabled drivers.
Photo courtesy of Mdm. Cheah Yu Shih.
Accessible parking spaces are there for a purpose. They are wider than regular parking spaces. The extra space allows wheelchair users to get in and out of the vehicles safely and conveniently, irrespective whether they are the driver or passenger.
Disabled passengers and assistants who are “discouraged” from using the accessible parking may risk getting hit by passing vehicles if they have to do transferring by the aisle because once the vehicle is parked in a regular space, the wheelchair user will have problem getting out or back into the car. The same may happen to disabled drivers.
Campaigning for priority use of accessible facilities goes against the spirit of equality and inclusion. Therefore, instead of asking for priority for disabled drivers, disabled people should work together to demand for more parking spaces.
I am also disappointed to note that disabled people who are advocating for equality in using the MBPJ accessible community van service are throwing their support behind the call to give priority to use accessible parking to disabled drivers. I have blogged about this van service in Transit OKU Should Be For All Wheelchair Users In PJ.
These disabled people own cars but still use the van service. I have no quarrel with this. Disabled people have the choice and are entitled to this service. They can choose to drive or they can choose to use the van service. It must also be noted that when these disabled drivers choose to use the van service, they may be depriving other non-driving disabled people from using it.
What is most appalling is the double standard that these people are practicing. To them, equality is only meaningful if they can get something out of it. Otherwise, they will push for privileges and priority to use facilities meant for all disabled people.
In that case, why should other disabled people who are marginalised by these “awareness campaigns” support advocacy activities for facilities that they will never get to use? That is the main reason why the disability movement in Malaysia is weak. Some people will only participate if they can get something out of it instead of working together for the good of the community as a whole.
I have said it then and I will say it here again. In advocating for our rights, we should not deny others theirs. This is one of the basic principles disability-rights advocates must adhere to. We should not, at any time, segregate disabled people into classes, be it social, financial, colour or creed. We have been fighting against exclusion for a long time. We know all too well the pain of being marginalized. Therefore it is contradictory to exclude one of our own based on discriminatory criteria.