The wheelchair rolls well on smooth surfaces. Roads, pavements, grass and pebbled paths is another story. The small front caster can easily get caught between bumps and cracks. Apart from making it difficult to push, they make rides bumpy which in turn causes spasms of the legs. Traversing these surfaces could quickly damage the wheelchair as well. I avoid such terrains as much as possible. For someone who likes the great outdoors, it is indeed a difficult choice for me to make.
This is the same dilemma wheelchair users all over face when we want to go off the beaten path, until the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment was invented, that is. When I ordered the Tilite ZRA Series 2, I got the FreeWheel shipped together with the wheelchair to save on freight charges. With the FreeWheel hooked to the footrest, going across grassy fields or sandy beaches became a breeze. This practical mechanism is the brainchild of Pat Dougherty, a wheelchair user himself, who saw the need for an easier way to get the wheelchair across challenging terrains.
Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia.
Photo by Wuan.
The FreeWheel’s design is simple and ingenious. It consists of a 12.5 inch wheel attached to a fork. Attaching the Freewheel to the wheelchair is easy once the clamp is properly adjusted to fit the footrest. Swing the wheel out and place the clamp over the footrest. Pull the lever back and the FreeWheel is securely clamped to the footrest. Push the wheelchair forward to turn the wheel back. This lifts the front casters one inch off the ground. And all is good to go!
Closer view of Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment.
Photo by Wuan.
On my recent trip to Penang, I used the Freewheel at Gurney Drive, the Botanical Gardens and several other places. The ride was certainly smoother even over rough roads and paved walkways. Moving around was a joy. In tight spaces like at the food courts, I simply unclamped the FreeWheel, stored it by attaching it to the perch fastened to the back rigidizer bar. With the FreeWheel out of the way, I manuevered around crowds with ease. With the FreeWheel, I do not have to think twice about where I can go now. Using the wheelchair when I am out and about has become less inconvenient. Truly, the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment is the best thing since sliced bread for wheelchair users. Thanks, Pat, for a wonderful invention.
Tags: accessible tourism, FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment, Gurney Drive, Gurney Hotel, Pat Dougherty, Penang, Penang Botanic Gardens, rigid wheelchair, titanium wheelchair, ultra lightweight wheelchair, wheelchair user Malaysia
Casuarina tree outside Restoran Khaleel blocking almost the entire sidewalk at Gurney Drive.
Continuing from my previous entry regarding the lack of kerb ramps to the seafront promenade at Gurney Drive, there actually are quite a number of them across the road. The first kerb ramp is outside Evergreen Laurel Hotel where the blind man crossing sign is. However, there is no ramp to get off the sidewalk at the other end.
The subsequent kerb ramps outside the Zealand Cafe, Carnation Cafe and Song River Cafe are either poorly constructed or lead to sidewalks blocked by trees, phone booth or lamp posts. Wuan and I encountered a lamp post right in the middle of a sidewalk reminiscent of the one that we maneuvered around at Pandan Perdana and fell off the pavement and onto the road.
Lamp post right in the middle of sidewalk at the junction of Persiaran Gurney – Jalan Birch.
When these sidewalks are not blocked by trees or street furniture, we encountered vehicles indiscriminately parked on the driveways and blocking access to the kerb ramps. In the end, I had to go on the road, too, and face oncoming traffic passing by inches away just like what I experienced the day before.
Wuan and I had gallivanted around Gurney Drive several times before this and I wonder how we managed then. We must have had more courage back then. Or perhaps we had faith in drivers in Penang to be careful and considerate. The accessible facilities for disabled people in Gurney Drive are simply built without much thought and consideration, and are a danger not only to disabled people but non-disabled pedestrians as well.
Indiscriminately parked vehicle blocking access to kerb ramp at Gurney Drive.
Like I have repeated so many times before, building a ramp does not make it wheelchair friendly, handicapped friendly or disabled friendly, whatever we choose to call these facilities. They must be safe to use and barrier free. The ones at Gurney Drive are not. They fall short of even the most basic of requirements.
The people at Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (MPPP) must take note of these matters seriously. It is a matter of life and death for disabled people when we have to go on the road to move from one point to another. It is not that difficult to make good kerb ramps and sidewalks that are barrier free. But I see the same mistakes being duplicated all over all the time.
Helo? There is a phone booth blocking the sidewalk at Gurney Drive.
This issue is not unique only to Gurney Drive, or Penang for that matter. Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ) and Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh (MBI), to name a few, all build facilities that are mostly non-usable by disabled people despite of the availability of Malaysian Standard MS 1184: Code of Practice for Access for Disabled Persons to Buildings and Malaysian Standard MS 1331: Code of Practice for Access of Disabled Persons Outside Buildings
The engineers, architects and whoever are in charge of such infrastructure in the local governments are not doing their job properly. Two years after coming into force, the Akta Orang Kurang Upaya (Persons with Disabilities Act) rings hollow for disabled people whose right of equal access to public facilities are still being overlooked and ignored.
Tags: access audit, accessible tourism, Akta OKU 2008, Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008, curb ramp, disabled people Malaysia, footpath, Gurney Drive, kerb ramp, Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh, Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya, Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang, MBI, MPAJ, MPPP, MS 1184, MS 1331, Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, sidewalk, street furniture, wheelchair user Malaysia
Wheelchair user forced to use the road at Gurney Drive.
Photo by Wuan.
Wuan and I were in Penang last week. That was not the first time we played tourists at Gurney Drive. The previous times we were there, we liked to stroll along the Casuarina-lined promenade early in the morning and evening to soak in the beautiful seascape and then adjourn to one of the numerous kopitiams for some local hawker fare afterwards.
The Toyota Unser sped by just mere inches away from a wheelchair user at Gurney Drive.
Photo by Wuan.
We did the same this trip except we realised that kerb ramps to get to the promenade are far and few in between. I had to go on the road for quite a distance from the Gurney Resort Hotel and Residences, where we were staying, before we arrived at the first kerb ramp opposite Evergreen Laurel Hotel. In between that, I had to brave oncoming traffic on the road, hoping and praying that I won’t get hit by a car or a motorcycle speeding by us before I got to the kerb ramp.
Wheelchair user fighting for space on the road at Gurney Drive.
Photo by Wuan.
Gurney Drive is a rather long stretch of road, about 1.9km from end to end. Likewise the seafront promenade, which is a continuous stretch of uninterrupted walkway. There are simply too few kerb ramps for wheelchair users to get onto the promenade or get off to go to the kopitiams across the road. As a popular tourist destination, the lack of accessibility makes it difficult for disabled people to fully enjoy our time there. Most importantly, our safety is severely compromised each time we are forced to use the road with other vehicles while trying to locate a kerb ramp.
Blind pedestrian crossing sign and kerb ramps on both sides of the road at Gurney Drive.
Photo by Wuan.
The Penang state government, the Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (MPPP) and the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia should make a serious effort in improving the accessible facilities at Gurney Drive in line with the government’s effort to promote tourism in the country as well as to fulfil the obligations as required under the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, namely the rights of equal access to public facilities, and to recreation and leisure activities.
Tags: accessible tourism, Akta OKU 2008, Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008, curb ramp, disabled people Malaysia, Gurney Drive, inclusive tourism Malaysia, kerb ramp, Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, MPPP, Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, wheelchair user