Disability Awareness Training At MPAJ

MPAJ Disability Awareness Training - MPAJ Council Member Chan Su Sann and MPAJ President Dato' Mohammad Bin Yacob
MPAJ Council Member Chan Su Sann and MPAJ President Dato’ Mohammad Bin Yacob beside her on wheelchairs before the simulation exercise.

Many government buildings in Malaysia are still inaccessible to disabled people. This is a crying shame as these buildings should be the first to comply with accessibility standards namely Malaysian Standard MS 1184: Code of Practice on Access for Disabled Persons to Public Buildings. The government should lead by example. If not how else are they going to enforce By-Law 34A of the Uniform Building By-Law (UBBL 34A) that requires all public buildings provide access to disabled people? It is ironic for the municipal government to penalize developers and building owners when their own premises are blatant examples of inaccessibility.

MPAJ Disability Awareness Training - Participants going up a ramp on wheelchairs
Participants going up a ramp on wheelchairs at MPAJ building.

The Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ) took the first step today to make its administrative building compliant with MS 1184. The municipality organised Hari Kesedaran dan Simulasi OKU at Menara MPAJ in Pandan Indah. A simulation exercise was conducted by access audit facilitator Haslinda Hashim to show the top management of the municipality the problems faced by disabled people when they need to conduct business at the premises. Taking the lead in the exercise was its President Dato’ Mohammad Bin Yacob together with Council Members who went around on wheelchairs to use the ramps, toilet and counters.

MPAJ Disability Awareness Training - MPAJ President Dato' Mohammad Bin Yacob on wheelchair learning about issues faced by disabled people
MPAJ President Dato’ Mohammad Bin Yacob (right) on wheelchair learning about issues faced by wheelchair users at the MPAJ building.

The first barrier they encountered was the rather steep ramp leading from the car park to the lobby. All of them had difficulty pushing themselves up. The President personally tested the toilet and also discovered that there was insufficient space to manoeuvre inside. At the payment counters section, the glass doors were difficult to open. Both door had to be opened to accommodate the entrance and exit of the wheelchairs. However, there was a low counter where disabled persons and senior citizens do not have to get a queue numbers to be served.

MPAJ Disability Awareness Training - Reporters crowding around the toilet to photograph MPAJ President Dato' Mohammad Bin Yacob testing out the accessible toilet
Reporters crowding around the toilet to photograph MPAJ President Dato’ Mohammad Bin Yacob testing out the accessible toilet.

Over lunch, I had the opportunity to have a few words with the President. I intimated to him that while the initiative by MPAJ to make the building accessible is a good move, there must be connectivity to the place. A fully accessible building is useless to disabled people if we are unable to get there due to the barriers in the street environment and public transport. The matter of accessibility must be viewed in totality instead of being done on a piecemeal basis.

MPAJ Disability Awareness Training - MPAJ President Dato' Mohammad Bin Yacob giving a speech at the end of the training
MPAJ President Dato’ Mohammad Bin Yacob giving a speech at the end of the training and instructed the relevant departments to rectify the problems regarding accessible facilities at MPAJ building.

Incidentally, the day’s event coincided with the MPAJ’s full council meeting, I also had the opportunity to discuss briefly regarding the same matters with Teratai ADUN Jenice Lee and Council Member Chan Su Sann. As I see it, there certainly is progress from the day a few friends and I met with Jenice after the general election in 2008 to present to her our case to her. Nevertheless, the going is extremely slow. I wonder if I will live to see the day when I can move around in the Klang Valley and Penang independently like what I experienced in Tokyo.

Meeting With YB Jenice Lee

Jenice Lee with Tan Weng Aun, Wang Siew Ming and Peter Tan
Jenice Lee with Tan Weng Aun, Wang Siew Ming and Peter Tan.
Photo by Wuan.

Right after the 12th General Election, I thought it would be a good idea to present a memorandum to the incoming state governments on issues of accessibility for disabled people. Although there is a law to compel developers to include such features in their projects, this is seldom enforced. The Uniform Building By-Law 34-A (UBBL 34A) under the Street Drainage and Building Act specifically states that:

(3) Buildings to which this by-law applies and which on .the date of commencement of this by-law have been erected, are being erected or have not been erected but plans have been submitted and approved shall be modified or altered to comply with this by-laws within 3 years from the date of commencement of this by-law.

Fifteen years later now, old buildings have not complied with this requirement while many new buildings do not meet the minimum standards of accessibility. The onus of enforcements falls squarely on the majlis perbandaran (municipal councils) and they have done nothing with regards to this matter.

While the UBBL 34A is a move in the right direction, it is made impotent by indifferent officers within the many majlis perbandaran who are either ignorant of the existence of the law or are not technically savvy enough to understand the accessibility standards. Whatever the reasons, disabled people are left high and dry.

Hence, I wrote the memorandum with the hope that it would move the state governments to compel all municipal councils to enforce the UBBL 34A. Naziaty Yaacob of Inclusive Design for Malaysia provided valuable feedback that completed the document. My friends in Penang submitted the same document with some amendments to reflect the situation there to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng a couple of weeks ago.

Here in the Klang Valley, I secured an appointment to meet with the ADUN of Teratai YB Jenice Lee last Saturday morning together with fellow accessibility advocate Wang Siew Ming and Tan Weng Aun. We presented Jenice with the memorandum to forward it to the Selangor Menteri Besar. We spent nearly two hours discussing about the accessibility issues faced by disabled people and the badly done ramps along the walkways at Pandan Perdana and went through the various points in the memorandum.

At the same time, Wang presented Jenice with the Malaysian Standard MS 1184: Code of Practice on Access for Disabled Persons to Public Buildings and the Malaysian Standard 1331: Code of Practice for Access for Disabled People Outside Buildings. He presented the same books to the previous ADUN before the construction of the ramps but not one of the ten ramps complied with the standards and are not safe to use.

The day before concrete was poured, we specifically guided the contractor on how it should be done. He was annoyed with us for fussing over it. We were very disappointed when we went to check on the ramps after it was completed. He did not follow any of the specifications. That rendered the ramp useless. It was truly a waste of public funds.

We truly hope Selangor will live up to its developed state status and take the lead to become the first state to be generally accessible to disabled people. We have gotten a raw deal for so long and we hope that all the new state governments will seriously look into the problems faced by disabled people and resolve it for once and for all. We would also like to thank Jenice for spending the morning listening to us, making an effort to understand what we are facing and for promising to look into it.

Related entry:
Memorandum to the Government Of Selangor Darul Ehsan on Facilities for Disabled People

Malaysia’s 12th General Election: My Swan Song For Penang

Wuan and I set off from Kuala Lumpur at 10.30am after she voted at Pandan Perdana. We had expected to begin our journey at 9.00am but the polling centre here was packed and there was a queue. When we got on the North-South Expressway, the sky was bluer than blue with white puffy clouds wrapping the horizon. That is my kind of weather. Rain was forecasted for the afternoon and evening. I wondered if I would be caught and wondered how I was going to get into the polling station in the deluge.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Crawl at the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

There was a slow crawl the entire stretch from Rawang to Slim River, partly due to the widening of the expressway and the unusually heavy traffic. In our many journeys north, we had never experienced such traffic condition. Were people heading up north to vote in their hometowns? The most telling sign was that most of the cars sported Perak, Penang and Kedah number plates.

The usually busy Tapah RSA (Rest and Service Area) was packed to the brim with vehicles and people. We decided not to stop for toilet break and pushed on to Ipoh. It was surprising that we made good time on the road despite the crawl before Slim River. We drove into Kinta City Shopping Centre for a quick lunch. When we got out from that place, it began to rain and boy did it pour.

North-South Expressway on Election Day - 10-car pile up acccident
One of the vehicles in the 10-car pile up somewhere near Kamunting.
Photo by Wuan.

One of the best things that William taught us to invest on was a bottle of Rain X. No, this is not a sponsored post or a paid endorsement for that product. It repelled water from the windscreen in heavy rain and improved visibility to a great extent. At higher speeds, rainwater just flowed away as soon as it hit the windscreen. There even was not a need to run the wiper. That was how good it was. The only thing it could not do was repel the fine mist of water churned up by the wheels of the vehicles in the front.

Somewhere between Kamunting and Taiping, traffic came to a crawl again. We inched slow. The cause was a ten-car pile up on the right lane. Most of the vehicles had very badly bashed in boots and bonnets. As far as I could see, there were no critical injuries, just badly shaken drivers with shocked looks in their faces standing in the rain looking at their wreck vehicles and wondering how the mishap could have happened.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Car with the bonnet torn away in an accident somewhere near Taiping.
Photo by Wuan.

For a while after that, we were in the midst of cautiously driven vehicles. Nevertheless, the gory sight of mangled cars was repeated six times after that. All along the way, there was no sign of ambulances. That I took to be a good sign as it indicated that nobody was critically injured in those accidents. I can attribute three factors that cased the accidents – speeding in low-visibility, slippery road conditions and hydroplaning. There is a stretch of expressway from Taiping and Juru where rainwater tends to gather into invisible puddles that may cause speeding cars to lose traction unexpectedly.

A short distance after the Juru toll plaza, I was almost caught in an accident. I was following a car that was following a small lorry. The bus that the lorry was following suddenly braked. The lorry followed suit but it skidded and momentarily spun out of control. The car in front swerved to avoid the lorry. I hit the brakes and swerved left to avoid the car. Fortunately there was no traffic behind me. We found out that the bus had suddenly braked because there was an accident right in front of it. Thank God for ABS that prevented our car from skidding.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Another accident along the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

The moment we reached Penang, I became fidgety. Traffic into the city was crawling. It was already 3.45pm. Polling ends at 5.00pm. At the rate we were moving I estimated that I may not be able to reach the polling centre in time. Moreover, the rain was not letting up. It would be a wasted effort to drive almost 400km and not being able to cast my two votes.

I took several shortcuts but I was not making good time. Traffic was slow everywhere. At 4.25pm, I was stuck in yet another jam at Jalan Lim Lean Teng which is about 2km from the polling centre. The rain became even heavier. I was beginning to lose hope. Did I go all the way to Penang only to arrive at the polling centre after it closed? Desperation and frustration gripped me. Wuan tried to console me but at that moment, I was inconsolable.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
The truck churning up a fine mist and causing poor visibility along the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

The moment we turned into Jalan Terengganu, the road was clear but water was fast rising at the junction with Jalan P. Ramlee. This area is famous for it notorious floods during monsoon seasons. I have lived in this area for 22 years and I knew it like the back of my hand but time was running out. As I slowly inched our way in the ankle-height water, I kept looking at the dashboard clock.

It was raining very heavily and we reached the entrance to SM Sri Mutiara which was the polling station for me to cast my vote. I turned into the school but the policeman on duty stopped me. I told him I am an OKU (disabled person) and he gave me the thumbs up sign and allowed me to drive in. It was already 4.30pm. Wuan and I have been on the road for six hours already.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Tow truck operators having a field day with the numerous accidents along the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

She took my identity card and went to get the number for my polling stream. A polling centre has several polling streams – the room where voters are given their ballot paper and cast their votes. Mine was 3. In the heavy rain, she got my wheelchair from the boot and assisted me out from the car. A helpful staff of the polling station shielded us from the rain with an umbrella.

After that, it was all a breeze. Wuan got me into the polling room. I presented my identity card. It number and my name was read out loud by the polling officer for the polling agents from the respective political parties. I was given two folded sheets of paper. At the cubicle, I unfolded the first sheet. Jeff Ooi’s name was there. It was a surreal moment when I pressed the pencil on the ballot paper and wondered if I was marking in the right box.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Slow-moving traffic at the Penang Bridge heading towards the island.
Photo by Wuan.

Having marked the ballot paper for the Parlimentary seat, I unfolded the one for the state seat. I hesitated for a moment. I have never really thought about who I wanted to vote for the state seat. Should I vote like how most Penangites would vote – Parliament for the DAP and state for the Barisan Nasional? I must have spent a little too much time trying to decide because the polling officer manning the ballot boxes stood up and took a peek at me wondering what was taking me so long. I looked at him, smiled and quickly marked the paper, folded it back and slotted them into the respective ballot boxes.

Bryan was there waiting when I got out from the polling room. He helped Wuan to get me into the car. I was touched that he came in the rain to assist me at the polling station. As I was rushing to drop in at my apartment to collect some belongings and than drive back to Kuala Lumpur, we did not have much opportunity to chat. We bade farewell and promised to catch up again the next time I am in Penang.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Jeff Ooi and Law Heng Kiang election billboard outside McDonalds Green Lane.
Photo by Wuan.

The journey back was smooth all the way. We wondered where all the traffic had disappeared to. Perhaps Wuan and I were the only crazy people who drove all the way to Penang just to vote and drove back to Kuala Lumpur immediately after that. We reached home at 1am, tired, hungry and in dire need of a bath. By then, news had trickled in that the informal alliance of DAP, PKR and PAS had the majority seats in Penang to form the next state government, that Jeff Ooi, Tony Pua and Teresa Kok were voted in, and Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, Datuk Teng Hock Nan, Dato’ Sri Sharizat Abdul Jalil and Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun did not make it.

Was it worth the effort that Wuan and I had driven 800km in 15 hours just to mark two sheets of ballot paper? The answer is a resounding YES! That was the first and probably the last time I am voting in Penang. I will soon change my address and voting constituency from Jelutong and DUN Datuk Keramat to Pandan and DUN Teratai in Selangor where DAP’s Jenice Lee was voted in. Nonetheless, I hope the incoming Penang state government will keep their election promises and live up to the trust and mandate that Penangites had given them.