More disabled-friendly public transport ordered: The Star – April 14, 2009

The following is an excerpt from the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 (Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008):

Access to public transport facilities

27. (1) Persons with disabilities shall have the right to access to and use of public transport facilities, amenities and services open or provided to the public on equal basis with persons without disabilities.

The issue about access to public transport for disabled people has been left lingering since the time disabled people came out to protest against Star LRT for barring us from taking the trains in 1994. More recently, when Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy was the Minister of Transport he had a meeting with disabled people at his ministry where he announced that all public transport will be made accessible. My friend Robert Wang and I approached Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat in August 2008 regarding the same issue when he came to Pandan Perdana to officiate an event at the Pandan Lake.

Today, The Star reported that Minister of Transport Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat has directed agencies under the Ministry to provide accessible facilities. It is time the Ministry of Transport stop dilly dallying with lip service only to this long standing issue and work together with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to look for ways to resolve it for once and for all.

The article quoted the Minister of Transport as saying that he had come across some cases where physically-challenged individuals struggled to get onto public transport. Struggling is an understatement. For wheelchair users, it is an impossibility. It is physically challenging for us all right. These challenges are created by a non-inclusive public transport and casued by the lack of enforcement of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A.

The government has acknowledged that access to public transport is a right for disabled people. So why are accessible facilities still not provided in this area? How long more do disabled people have to wait to be able to use public transport? And whatever happened to the Master Plan on Public Transportation Policy commissioned by the Ministry of Transport on 2008 under the Abdullah administration?

The Star Online
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Tuesday April 14, 2009
More disabled-friendly public transport ordered

KUALA LUMPUR: Agencies under the Transport Ministry, including KTM Bhd, have been directed to come out with more facilities to make it easier for the disabled who use public transport.

Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat said yesterday there was still room for improvement in the facilities provided for the physically-challenged.

“We are aware that a lot of public transport facilities do not take their needs into consideration.

“At the fourth quarter of last year, I instructed several agencies under my ministry to take into account the needs of these individuals,” he told reporters after opening the KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled in Bandar Baru Ampang here yesterday.

Overcoming obstacles: (From right) Resorts World Bhd deputy chairman Tun Hanif Omar sealing a packet of roasted green peas in the presence of Ong and Resorts World Bhd executive director Tan Sri Alwi Jantan during the opening of the KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled in Bandar Baru Ampang in Kuala Lumpur.

Ong, who is the patron of the centre, said he had instructed the agencies to speed up the process.

“I wish to see the public transport system, whether it is under the purview of my ministry or other ministries, to take this matter seriously.

“I know it is not easy and there are a lot of obstacles but we must endeavour to overcome the challenges,” he said.

Ong said he had come across some cases where physically-challenged individuals struggled to get onto public transport.

“I do not think it is fair.”

Earlier in his speech, Ong said physically-challenged individuals needed assistance not in the form of welfare.

“They need help in the terms of training opportunities to excel in life and to compete with others. These are the key parameters that we should set our sights on,” he said.

The KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled is set up by Resorts World Bhd and Kelab Kercergasan Ampang Jaya to give disabled people a chance to acquire skills and to earn an income for themselves.

The centre provides training in paper lamination, document binding and food packaging.

Disabled People Blind To Real Issues Affecting Them

Disabled people are funny people – funny in an ironic way. On one hand, we are asking that our fundamental rights be respected. We demand for equalization in opportunities. We want to be treated equally. On the other hand, we are also demanding for privileges. We want to enjoy discounts on everything – bus fares, phone bills, road tax and toll charges among others.

We should realise that one cannot see both sides of the coin at the same time. It is either heads or tails. If we want to be treated as equals, then we should be playing our part as equals. We cannot have the cake and eat it too. If we want the same services or facilities that other people are enjoying, then we should be prepared to pay the same price that everyone else is paying.

Rights and privileges are not interchangeable. We must understand the difference between the two. Privileges are things that are given out of goodwill and can be taken back at the wink of an eye. Rights are inalienable. It is not something that can be bestowed or revoked at whim. And rights must come first before anything else. That must be the priority in all disability advocacy activities.

At a time when our rights to accessible built environment and public transport in Malaysia is virtually non-existent, it is rather disappointing to hear my peers fussing over the 50% discount on bus and LRT fares provided by RapidKL to disabled people. By asking for such petty handouts, we are discarding our dignity to portray ourselves as objects of charity, pity and sympathy. Is that the impression that we really want to propagate about what disabled people really want from society?

That was exactly what happened at a meeting organised by the Malaysian Confederation of the Disabled (MCD) last Saturday to facilitate a survey conducted by the Malaysian Institute of Transport (MITRANS) based at the Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Shah Alam. The survey was to collect data on the public transportation needs of disabled people for the Master Plan on Public Transportation Policy that was commissioned by the Ministry of Transport.

Instead of focusing on the importance of equal access which is the main stumbling block in mainstreaming disability, some participants were bent in complaining about not getting the discount on bus and train fares. Please lar people, when tens of thousands of disabled people still cannot use the public transport, why are we talking about discounts? Have we become so petty that we only care for ourselves without a concern for those who are in situations worse off than ours? I am disappointed that people I regard as my peers in disability advocacy have lost sight of the big picture. We have truly missed the forest for the trees.

Election Manifesto For The 12th General Election

The general election is just around the corner. So blares the mainstream media day in day out for the past few weeks. That is also what Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi likes us to think. I read in The Star today where he said no any one race will be left behind in the nation’s mainstream development. In another report, he said that “the national development agenda is to bring extensive improvement to the living standards of the people.”

I salute Datuk Seri Abdullah’s statements. I sincerely hope he makes good those promises. Disabled people have been sidelined in all areas of the nation’s development since independence. These deficiencies are so apparent that it does not take much to discover how much disabled people in Malaysia are marginalised in all areas of our lives. Look around and you will realise how tough it is for disabled people to live their lives as compared to non-disabled people.

Disability transcends all ethnic, age and gender boundaries. It does not discriminate whether one is a Malay, Chinese, Indian or of any other ethnicity. Nevertheless, disabled people is the group that is most left behind in mainstream society. That happens because disabled people are not considered part of mainstream society. If anybody dare say this is not so, I ask that he try to live one day in a wheelchair to go to work and move around in the city using public transport.

Mainstreaming disability is the inclusion of disabled people in all levels of the society. Disabled people should not be considered as an aberration of society and that their needs are separate. The barriers that prevent them from being active participants in society should be removed. The problems that they are facing should be seen as the problems of society and not separated and segregated as special needs. Disability is not other people’s problem. It is our problem as everybody, including ourselves and our loved ones, has the potential to become disabled.

The present day government has not done enough to mainstream disability. The existence of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A) that was gazetted in the 1990s has been ignored by most local authorities. There is no enforcement to compel developers to include safe and functional accessible facilities in their projects. This deprives disabled people the opportunity to move around public places conveniently. This matter is under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government where Dato’ Seri Ong Ka Ting is the minister. The sad thing is that even some of the newest buildings do not conform to the provisions of the UBBL 34A. The people responsible to enforce it are obviously not doing their job.

The promise to provide accessible public transport was a knee jerk reaction to the protest by the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT). The ramps and wheelchair docking systems were so shabbily done that it is apparent RapidKL was never truly interested in running a public transport service for disabled people. BEAT’s meeting with Deputy Minister of Finance Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen and Minister of Transport Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy did not produce any result although they have promised to look into it. Dato’ Seri Chan, whatever happened to the National Transport Master Plan that was supposed to meet the needs of disabled people? I want to stress that these buses will also be convenient for senior citizens, pregnant women, adults with prams and children. It is not solely for the use of disabled persons.

Likewise, RapidPenang and the people involved in it lied through their teeth when they publicly announced that the buses would be “disabled-friendly.” Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop was reported by The Star on March 19, 2007 to have said that RapidPenang buses would be disabled-friendly. In my many trips back to Penang, I have neither seen any accessible buses nor heard from wheelchair users that they have used such buses.

Datuk Teng Hock Nan is another politician who is not in touch with disability issues. He had said that boarding wheelchair users would delay bus schedules. He had also said that a survey has to be conducted first to determine the areas that disabled people live in and the places that they travel to before RapidPenang would introduce “disabled-friendly” buses but the bus company would service rural routes even if the passenger head count is low. Does Datuk Teng not know that disabled people live all over in the state of Penang and that we want to go to places that other people go to? Why the double standard in serving disabled people as compared to people living in rural areas? Just in case you are not aware, Datuk Teng, I would like to inform you that the statement reeks of discrimination.

The Persons with Disabilities Bill was passed in the Parliament recently. Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Dato’ Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil admitted that this piece of legislation is non-punitive in nature. What that means is that if you discriminate against me based on my disability, there is nothing in that piece of law that says that you cannot do it or that you can be taken to a court of law for doing it. So what is this law for? Frankly, I have no idea.

For this impending 12th General Election, I will throw my support around any political party or individual who promises to work towards making Malaysia an inclusive and fair society for everyone. This person must respect the dignity and rights of disabled people based on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. If UMNO and Barisan Nasional want the votes of disabled people, the parties must first remove Datuk Badruddin Amiruldin from the list of candidates. He is offensive and has no respect for disabled people.

Candidates putting themselves up for election must be serious in making the education system, public transport and built environment accessible, among others. This is important as the first step to improve our standard of living which at best had been below the national average for decades. He must also provide the necessary support system to severely disabled people for them to live independently in the community.

He must never treat disabled people as charity cases by dishing out small token of money and consider it helping us. Disabled people do not need charity. We want a commitment in the equalization of opportunities so that we are on a level playing field with the society at large in matters of education, employment and accessibility. We can be productive and live independently with the right support and infrastructure. Most of all, the candidate must do this from the sincerity of his heart. I know of politicians who work with disabled people simply because they want the publicity.

Incumbents and aspiring politicians should take note and not ignore the potential support from disabled people during this general election. We are not one disabled person with one vote. We have families and friends who understand our grouses and support our causes. We have the ability to make those votes count for candidates who are serious in resolving our problems. The message is very simple: Work for us and we will vote for you.