28th Anniversary Of My Spinal Cord Injury

Every year this day, I spend some quite time reflecting. I no longer think so much about how my life could have turned out had I not made that fateful dive into the pool. I could have become an engineer like what my father wanted me to be to take after him. I could have become a politician. I could have turned to crime. I could be very dead by now. I will never know. That is not important any more. I cannot turn back the clock and change that any way.

Instead, I reflect on what I have done so far with what I have and what I can be. Life is too short to be wondering about what could have been. Searching for a purpose in life was difficult in the beginning. It took a lot of hits and misses for me to discover what I wanted to do and one that I could do well in. Blogging was the first step. Then I had the fortuity to make friends with people who nudged me in the right direction. Kuan Aw and Christine deserves all the credit for being the wind that filled my sails when I first set out from the harbour.

Dr. Kenji Kuno of the Japan International Agency (JICA) gave me every opportunity available in his collaborative projects with the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat since 2005 to learn about Independent Living Programme (ILP) and Disability Equality Training (DET). My perspective on disability and rights of disabled people are shaped by the philosophies and principles propounded in these courses. I am now a senior trainer for DET and resource person on ILP because he gave me many opportunities to learn and put them into practice.

Wuan is instrumental in encouraging and supporting my work in disability advocacy. Without her, I would not be able to do so much. I may be independent but I still need assistance with my activities of daily living. Wuan helps me with that and that makes it convenient for me when I am out and about. Even at home, my life is easier because she makes sure that my needs are well looked after before she goes to work and after. She is always there for me. Indeed, she has been my pillar of strength since the beginning of our relationship.

On this anniversary, I want to celebrate these wonderful people who have come into my life and made a difference in so many ways. I am who I have become today because they have been generous with their kindness. They have proven that disabled people, given the opportunity and support, can achieve much more than we are made to believe. I am that irrefutable proof.

The road ahead may still be long but because of the foundation that they have helped me build, I am now doing work that is not only personally fulfilling but one that has the potential to change society for the better. To them, I want to say a big thank you from the bottom of my heart. My life is all the better because of you.

Of KLIA2 Aerobridges And The Disability Movement In Malaysia

When the disability movement in Malaysia does not speak in one voice, everybody becomes confused, disabled people themselves included. The issue of aerobridges at KL International Airport 2 (KLIA2) clearly shows the split.

Do disabled people need aerobridges to board planes at the KLIA2? Christine Lee, whelchair user and co-ordinator of the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) thinks it is needed and was quoted by Bernama as saying:

“The MAHB decision not to include aerobridges is a step backward and taken in the wrong direction,” she told reporters at a gathering attended by some 30 people with various disabilities to express their displeasure over this matter, here today.

“If underdeveloped countries can have aerobridges at their airports, why is Malaysia, which is a step away from developed nation status, regressing to third world infrastructure and service provision,” said Lee of the Barrier-free Environment and Accessible Transport (BEAT).

She added that aerobridges should and must be made a universal feature in all airport designs and developments.

(Disabled Community Pushes For Aerobridges At KLIA2 – August 20, 2011)

However, Anthony Thanasayan who is also a wheelchair user and Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ) councillor opines otherwise as reported in The Star:

He said he personally did not think it necessary for the aerobridges to be installed as ambulifts could cater for the disabled.

“What’s wrong with using ambulifts? Able-bodied passengers don’t need the aerobridges,” he said, adding that he was more concerned with the toilet and ramp designs at the new low-cost carrier terminal.

(Disabled group insists on aerobridge at new KLIA2 terminal – August 21, 2011)

Who should Malaysia Airports, and for that matter, the government and all other infrastructure providers, listen to? One party says we need aerobridges which is not only a convenience for disabled people but also to senior citizens, pregnant women, children and adults with prams. On the other hand, the other party says that ambulifts are sufficient.

Anthony was further reported to have argued against the use of aerobridge in Free Malaysia Today:

Thanasayan, a disabled himself felt that aerobridges were too expensive a commitment.

He suggested instead the use of the portable ambulifts in airports.

“The ambulift is more suitable as it is portable.

“Having an aerobridge will increase cost for passengers by 20%.

“It is unfair to shift the cost to able-bodied passengers.

“I have been carried up into planes in the US because the smaller airports does not have aerobridges and ambulifts,” said Thanasayan, who is the president of Petpositiev and an activist for the disabled community.

(‘Inconsiderate’ MAHB, Air Asia slammed – August 20, 2011)

This disagreement cannot come at a worse time, especially when the public and private sectors are beginning to warm up to the concept of right of access to the built-environment for disabled people. This right is recognized in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 and clearly stated in Clause 26 (Access to public facilities, amenities and services and buildings) and Clause 27 (Access to public transport facilities).

Access for disabled persons should not be exclusive, meaning, as far as possible, we do not advocate for special or separate facilities. This is where universal design comes in. This concept promotes that the built-environment and products are made accessible and usable to both non-disabled people and disabled people.

The importance that the Malaysian government accords to universal design is reflected in the formation of the Universal Design and Built Environment Committee (Jawatankuasa Reka Bentuk Sejagat Dan Alam Bina) under the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (Majlis Kebangsaan Bagi Orang Kurang Upaya).

The National Council was constituted under Clause 3 of the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 and is chaired by the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. Unfortunately, the same National Council did not make the effort to ensure that the facilities at KLIA2 are inclusive and universally usable.

Aerobridges are a good example of universal design. It provides convenience to all categories of passengers boarding and disembarking from aircrafts irrespective of weather. Wheelchair users can go right to the boarding door before transferring to a boarding chair to get into the plane. Likewise, senior citizens and non-disabled adult passengers with children, prams and luggages in tow can walk right up to the boarding door without having to heave kids and luggages up the boarding stairs.

To answer Anthony’s question of “What’s wrong with using ambulifts?” My answer is that there is absolutely nothing wrong in using ambulifts for boarding in airports that do not have boarding bridges. However, in the case of KLIA2, it is built from the ground up and “provisions have been made in the design of the terminals at the new low cost carrier terminal, the KLIA2, to accommodate the installation of aerobridges, if required at any time by AirAsia group or other low cost carriers (LCCs).” (The Star – New LCT designed to enable installation of aerobridges – July 15, 2011). So why not install the aerobridges for the convenience and safety of everyone?

Acording the a statement by Malaysia Airports dated July 15, 2011 with the heading No Aerobridges At KLIA2 To Cater For AirAsia’s Requirement, it was mentioned that aerobridges are mandatory for airlines in other countries in the region. A calculation of the cost per passenger for the usage was also furnished.

Airports in other countries in the region make it mandatory for airlines to use aerobridges where provided, in order to enhance passenger convenience, safety and security. Should the airlines choose not to use aerobridges, they then have to park the aircraft in a remote position and bus the passengers to the terminal. AirAsia had explained that they use aerobridges at these other countries as they are compelled to adhere to the regulatory requirements at these airports, as no exemptions are given.

Based on AirAsia’s decision not to use aerobridges at klia2, the terminal for LCCs, even during inclement weather or for long haul operations, the terminal is being constructed without the installation of aerobridges and instead ramps will be provided. As AirAsia and AirAsiaX would be the major airlines at klia2, it may not be worthwhile to incur the cost if the aerobridges are not going to be used. However provision has been made in the design of the terminal to accommodate the installation of aerobridges, if so required at any time, by AirAsia group or any other LCCs. Discussions will be held with other LCCs as well on their requirements.

The current charge to the airline for the use of the aerobridge is RM85.00 per usage. Based on a full A320 aircraft carrying 180 passengers for both arriving and departing flights, the cost of using the aerobridge works out to be less than 25 sen per passenger. This makes Malaysia Airports’ charge for the aerobridge the lowest in the region.

Malaysia Airports has continually received numerous feedbacks from the public requesting that all airlines be required to use aerobridges in order to avoid inconvenience to passengers. Tan Sri Bashir added, “As such, we will continue to engage AirAsia and AirAsiaX, as well as other airlines to look into the possibility of further aligning their operations to the needs of passengers.”

If other countries are already imposing the mandatory use of aerobridges, why are we arguing against it here? It is a matter of regulatory requirements at those airports and airlines have no choice but to comply. The costs are passed down to passengers in the form of airport tax and passengers using those airports have no issue with it.

In the case of aerobridge charges at KLIA2, is 25 sen per passenger an excessive amount for a measure of convenience and safety, irrespective of whether one is a disabled person or not? I find it very surprising for Anthony to say that it is unfair for non-disabled passengers to bear the cost of providing such facilities to disabled passengers in Malaysia. Each and every passenger in the countries where aerobridge is mandatory has to pay for the usage and it is not due to providing for the needs of disabled passengers but by the force of regulation.

Malaysia have similar regulations as stated by the Malaysia Airports statement. Why then is it so different in Malaysia that disabled people are singled out and blamed should such charges be imposed? It is a regulatory requirement and has nothing to do with whether the facilities are for disabled passengers or otherwise. Therefore, the issue of passing on the cost to non-disabled passengers is untenable and without basis.

What is disappointing is that exemption is given to AirAsia and other low-cost carriers that are currently operating at KLIA-LCCT and will be operating at KLIA2 to not use aerobridges. This is at the expense of security, convenience and safety of passengers in addition to imposing a great inconvenience to disabled passengers who have to depend on ambulifts for boarding failing which we have to be bodily carried up the narrow boarding stairs. This is dangerous in many aspects, for the passenger and the crews carrying the passenger.

Malaysia Airports further stated that ramps will be provided in place of aerobridges. It was not elaborated what kind of ramps these were and whether wheelchair users can independently ascend these ramps. One point I have to wholeheartedly agree with Christine is that Malaysia is very close to becoming a developed nation but has unfortunately regressed to becoming third world again by this act of not using aerobridges, especially for a modern airport such as the KLIA2 that is being built at a cost of RM2bil and will become operational by the fourth quarter of 2012.

The issue of aerobridges is not limited only to KLIA2. It involves all major airports in the country where low-cost carriers fly to, like Penang and Kota Kinabalu. Malaysia Airports must seriously consider the views of all stakeholders in this matter as it involves the comfort, convenience and safety of passengers using the airports under its management.

At the same time, disabled advocates should take a step back to see what damage the aerobridge debacle has done to the disability movement in Malaysia. I am very concerned with the disunity displayed when confronted by major issues such as this. It is as if the head knows not what the tail is doing. If we cannot speak in one voice convincingly, no one will ever take us seriously again.

Engaging in one-upsmanship where disability issues are concerned benefits no one. In the end, the disabled community as a whole loses and suffers the consequences of disabled advocates cancelling each other out with contradictory statements.

I sincerely urge Christine and Anthony, as leaders of the respective groups, to come together to trash out the differences and come out with a common statement in this issue for the sake of all disabled people in Malaysia. Please take to heart the very apt Malay proverb: Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh (United we stand, divided we fall).

Meeting Eleanor

Peter Tan, Wuan, Christine Lee, Dr. Kenji Kuno and Eleanor Lisney
Peter Tan, Wuan, Christine Lee, Dr. Kenji Kuno and Eleanor Lisney.

Eleanor and I met online through our respective blogs. She is a disability consultant based in Coventry, United Kingdom. We have been talking about meeting up for the longest time. The planning to come back here took a while. The infrastructure in Malaysia simply cannot provide her the mobility and independence like those in the UK.

Anyway, we got together last Saturday with Wuan, Christine and Kenji at One World Hotel where we spent a good four hours sharing information and experiences regarding disability issues. We were enlightened on the support and services provided for disabled people in the UK. Thanks Eleanor, for your time and the lovely afternoon tea at the hotel lounge. Here is wishing you a safe journey back.