Kuching – Day 2: October 22, 2012

The room was very cold. Turning up the thermostat did not make any difference. Victor had to wrap me up to keep me warm. I did not sleep very well. The unfamiliar mattress and pillows exacerbated the situation. The room also reeked of stale cigarette smoke odour. Why the hotel allowed guests to smoke in the room and stink it up is beyond my comprehension.

Toasts, butter, baked beans and sunny side up
My favourite breakfast.
Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S III.

At first light, I got up to get ready for breakfast. I am not a breakfast person but I needed the energy and also to ensure that my blood glucose level is maintained. My favourite is a sandwich of toasted bread with a generous spread of butter, scrambled eggs and baked beans. The scrambled eggs did not look appetising. Victor recommended the sunny side up instead which was not a bad choice actually.

By the time I arrived at the seminar room, it was already teeming with participants. I went to check on my slides. Everything was in order. With half an hour more to go, I went back to my room which was on the same floor to catheterise and to put on a jacket. Good thing I decided to don a jacket for this event. Even with that many people, it was still freezing cold in the seminar room.

Peter Tan conducting a Disability Equality Training in Kuching, Sarawak
Peter Tan conducting Disability Equality Training (DET) at the Sarawak Supported Employment Seminar in Kuching.
Photo by Victor Chin.

The session went well with active involvement from the participants. The topic of “What is disability?” focused on the causes of disability, the difference between impairment and disability, the Medical Model of Disability and Social Model of Disability. The 150 participants were from Community-Based Rehabilitation centres and Non-Governmental Organisation all over Sarawak.

Peter Tan conducting a Disability Equality Training session in Kuching, Sarawak
View from the back of the seminar room.
Photo by Victor Chin.

When I was about to conclude, to my horror, the LCD projector lost video signal. My heart skipped several beats as the climax of the entire session hung on the few slides that I had yet to show. I did not realise that the laptop was being powered by battery. It was plugged back to the main power supply and rebooted. Fortunately, everything went on smoothly after that for me to wrap the session up.

Meeting Pierce for the first time
Pierce and I have known each other online for 9 years but this was the first time we met face to face.
Photo by Victor Chin.

The highlight of the day was meeting Pierce. We got acquainted from our blogging days about 9 years ago. He was very vocal in supporting disability rights that I was advocating for. Then Facebook came along and we got better connected via social media. When I had problems with Streamyx, he put me through to the proper channels to resolve those issues. He is one of those angels that is always looking out for me. Thank you, Pierce!

Joanna, who was there to cover the seminar, had a few more interview questions for me. Together with Pierce, we found a quieter spot in the Secretariat Room to continue with our conversation. After Joanna left to follow the other session of the seminar, Pierce and I continued with our conversations right through lunch. And then he offered to drop Victor and I off at the airport as we wanted to get there earlier than the pre-arranged time.

Cemetery along the way to the Kuching International Airport
There were several of such cemeteries along the way to the Kuching International Airport.

Pierce took a longer than usual route to the airport to avoid the traffic jam. It was scenic as it was macabre. There were several cemeteries by the road along the journey. The graves were well maintained though unlike those in Penang that were usually overgrown with lalang. We reached the airport with two hours to spare before boarding. While Pierce went to park the car, Victor and I went to check in my luggage.

We had problem using the the self check-in terminal as my ticket was tagged with special service request. A very helpful Malaysia Airlines counter staff helped check us in and put in a note for an aisle chair at the boarding gate.

With some time to kill still, Pierce, Victor and I lounged at Starbucks for a while. Pierce is a veritable tome of good Kuching food. I hope he will be our guide when I return to the city the next time. I appreciate the fact that he spent his entire day with us, from my early morning session at the seminar, then sending us to the airport and hanging out with us again until we had to get to the boarding lounge. That surely must be Sarawak hospitality at its best!

Waiting to board at the Kuching International Airport
Our ride home at the Kuching International Airport.

The journey back was uneventful. I tried to catch forty winks in the plane but the thought of being able to see Wuan and the cats again kept me awake. My fear of the wheelchair being mishandled was unfounded. The ground crew were very professional in managing it.

Victor must be credited for making this trip possible for me. Without his support, I would have to reject the invitation. He had made it easy for me to do what I was there for while he managed the rest.

I would also like to thank the team from JICA, especially Terumi for the travel arrangements, Swee Lan for the support during the seminar and the officers from the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Negeri Sarawak, namely Puan Hadiah, Penolong Pengarah Seksyen Orang Kurang Upaya, for the hospitality. I will definitely make a trip back to Kuching to enjoy the sights and sounds and savour the food that this city has to offer.

My Fear Of Flying Again

I am no stranger to travelling by plane. There was a time between 2005 and 2007 when I commuted frequently between Penang and Kuala Lumpur and to other places by flight. It was the most convenient way for me to travel between the two cities since express buses and trains were not that accessible.

I will be travelling again in a couple of days but there is this nagging fear that has been bothering me. This will be the first time I am flying with my Tilite ZRA S2 wheelchair. Having had first-hand experience of having my wheelchair irreparably damaged during one of my trips in 2005, I am worried my wheelchair may be mishandled again.

While Malaysia Airlines compensated me fully for the damaged wheelchair due to the collective complaints from other bloggers, the process of getting a replacement while using the damaged chair was very inconvenient. The wheelchair that I used at that time was a standard lightweight wheelchair that was available in most shops selling rehabilitation equipment. The one I am using now is ultra lightweight, fully customised and handmade in the USA, and costs ten times as much.

Malaysia Airlines recommends that passengers purchase additional baggage insurance to cover loss or damage of valuable and important documents. The Tilite is a vital piece of hardware that I cannot do without. My very mobility and independence depend on it. It is as valuable as anything else can be to me.

MHInsure, the company providing travel insurance to Malaysia Airlines passengers, do not provide cover for specific items other than the three fixed insurance plans that they offer. The highest compensation for damaged or lost baggage is RM3,000. That is less than a quarter of the cost of my wheelchair.

Should the wheelchair frame or any of the parts become damaged, replacing them will be expensive, not to mention that it may take two weeks or more for the parts to arrive from the USA, and severely restrict my mobility for that duration.

It is no fun going on a trip and having to worry what the condition the wheelchair will be when it comes out from the cargo hold. Having a totalled wheelchair in a foreign land will be very devastating for the disabled person. The problem of being stranded may cascade into serious health problems such as pressure sores.

Airlines or the parties providing baggage handling services should train their staff to be more careful when moving wheelchairs. I pray the baggage handlers will be kind to my wheelchair on this trip and all my other upcoming trips.

Tiger Airways deaf to discrimination claims: Herald Sun – April 11,2008

Via Scott Rains. A little outdated but relevant nonetheless.

Tiger Airways deaf to discrimination claims
Article from: Herald Sun

Jane Metlikovec with AAP

April 11, 2008 01:41pm

THE advent of low-cost airlines and zealous interpretation of safety regulations has led to discrimination against people with disabilities, experts say.

A group of deaf people from Melbourne has launched a discrimination case against Tiger Airways after the budget carrier insisted they travel with a carer last month.

But federal disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes says the problem isn’t limited to Tiger.

“There have been endemic problems in airlines over the past few years where people with disabilities have been refused carriage because of their disability,” Mr Innes told Sky News.

“The introduction of low-cost airlines has been one of the reasons.”

Mr Innes said they often applied unnecessarily strenuous or zealous interpretations of airline safety regulations and their staff weren’t trained well enough.

“What you get sometimes are individual decisions which are outside airline policies,” he said.

In 2006, Virgin Blue was forced to back down over its policy requiring wheelchair-bound passengers to be accompanied by a carer. It’s currently fighting a federal court case over alleged discrimination, Mr Innes said.

Last week, Mr Innes co-chaired a forum with the parliamentary secretary for disabilities services, Bill Shorten, to address the issue of how disabled people are treated by airlines.

The forum included the main airlines, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Government representatives.

Mr Shorten said the Government was concerned that discrimination was taking place “in the name of safety”.

“But the reality is most people with impairment can understand (safety) instructions and fly,” Mr Shorten told Sky News.

Mr Shorten said Tiger was wrong to insist deaf passengers travelled with a carer.

“People who are deaf can still see and all emergency safety briefings have pictorial representations,” he said.

“Just because people are deaf doesn’t mean that they’re stupid.”

He said Qantas had the best policy: “If you can’t self-medicate and self-see then you need a carer”.

But Mr Shorten said individual flight attendants were not to blame.

Better training and awareness about disability was needed, he said.

“The airline industry needs to reach out to people with disability.”

Public servant Adrian Doyle, 38, said he was left humiliated in Tasmania last month when he, his wife Julie, and two friends, Robyn and Steve May, who are all in their 30s, were told they could board a Tiger Airways plane only if they organised – and bought a seat – for a sign language translator.

A spokesman for Tiger Airways, Matt Hobbs, told the Herald Sun the policy was in place to protect the safety of all passengers in case of emergency.

Mr Hobbs said Tiger was not looking at revising its policy to let fully capable deaf adults travel without an aide.

“The carer issue is a standard practice, and it is there to protect the safety of all passengers, and without it, the safety of passengers could be jeopardised,” he said.

But Mr Hobbs rang back five minutes later saying the Tiger policy was actually to allow deaf people to travel without a carer.

Tiger would now address Mr Doyle and his travel companions.

“We are happy to apologise to the people involved for the inconvenience and embarrassment they might have experienced,” Mr Hobbs said.

Mr Doyle, of Nunawading, has filed the complaint against Tiger with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The group was eventually permitted to take their seats on the March 4 flight from Launceston to Melbourne, after a stewardess told them they would not be allowed to travel alone again.

“The stewardess wrote on a piece of paper to me that we all require a carer on a plane because of our ‘deafness’, which sure floored me,” Mr Doyle said.

“My friends had steam coming out of their ears, and my wife was dumbfounded.

“I then took the paper and wrote that they had insulted us by saying that we require a carer, since we have all travelled a lot, and never encountered any problems with our disabilities.”

Mr Doyle double-checked the Tiger policy over the phone when he returned home, and was again told that he would be required to have a carer next time.

“I am shocked and stunned that Tiger allow themselves to discriminate against deaf people,” he said.

Anti-discrimination consultant Julie Phillips said the original Tiger policy appeared to be out of the dark ages.

“Deaf people fly every day – they do not need carers. It’s ridiculous,” Ms Phillips said.

Virgin Blue and Jetstar both allow deaf passengers to travel without carers.