Risking Life And Limb At Gurney Drive

Peter Tan at Gurney Drive
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.

Peter Tan at Gurney Drive
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.

Peter Tan at Gurney Drive
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.

Peter Tan at Gurney Drive
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.

Inclusive Tourism And The Advocacy For Accessible Facilities

The advocacy for accessibility in the built environment has been ongoing for at least twenty years in Malaysia assuming we began from the time the Malaysian Standards MS 1184: Code of Practice for Access for Disabled Persons to Public Buildings and MS 1331: Code of Practice for Access of Disabled Persons Outside Buildings were first drafted.

By-law 34A of the Uniform Building By-Law (UBBL 34A) gazetted separately by the various state governments in the 1990s has done little to change the scenario. UBBL 34A requires that all new buildings provide access for disabled people. Buildings that do not have such facilities when the by-law came into force must provide them within three years.

No doubt new buildings such as shopping complexes have a certain degree of accessibility, these are far and few in between. These buildings by themselves are islands in an ocean of barriers. It is difficult for disabled people to get to these places as there is lack of connectivity in the form of accessible pedestrain facilities and public transport.

One of the excuses given often for lack of accessible facilities is budget. The federal government does not have the budget. The state governments do not have the budget. Municipal governments do not have the budget. To exacerbate the situation, municipal governments who are responsible for the approval of building plans do not have the expertise to ensure that MS 1184 is strictly adhered to.

It is all about money. As long as providing accessible public facilities do not generate revenue, there is little reason for the government to spend money on it. From the way I see it, if the disabled people’s movement in Malaysia continue to advocate the way we are used to, come next fifty years, we will still be complaining about the same issue.

Disabled people need to come out with a fresh angle to advocate. We have evolved from advocating solely for disabled people to embrace a wider circle of people who may find such facilities convenient. These include senior citizens, pregnant women, adults with prams and children. This is a good strategy but obviously is not sufficient to move the powers that be.

Advocates for accessibility should seriously consider promoting the idea of inclusive tourism in Malaysia. Tourism is a major industry in this country. According to Tourism Malaysia, 22 million tourist came to Malaysia in 2008 generating a total receipt of RM49,561.2 million.

Inclusive tourism applies the principles of Universal Design to allow the participation of the broadest range of tourists, principally disabled people. However, other categories of tourists like senior citizens may find this form of tourism convenient due to the accessible facilities.

Accessible tourism will definitely benefit the economy by tapping into groups of tourists who do not usually consider Malaysia as a destination previously due to the barriers that we have here. The facilities in turn will benefit disabled people locally. At the same time, it will also spur dosmetic tourism for disabled people as there are presently limited options in travelling to other countries due to the same issues.

I truly feel that this is a strategy worth looking into. We have not gained much all the years that we have advocated for accessibility. If this does not work, we have nothing much to lose anyway. In fact, the tourism industry in Malaysia as a whole has much to lose as more and more countries around the world move towards making their tourist destinations accessible should the powers that be continue to ignore this matter.

VirtualMalaysia.Com On Inclusive Tourism

There is an article on inclusive tourism in the Malaysian context in VirtualMalaysia.Com, the “Official e-Tourism Portal for the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia. The Editor for the portal Ariel Chew requested for an interview three weeks ago which I readily agreed as this is a seldom-talked about subject in this country still. Head over to the article titled A tale of Two Disabled Travellers to read what I have to say about the state of inclusive tourism in Malaysia.