On November 26, 2007, I blogged the following:
Is the OKU Card issued by the Department of Social Welfare not good enough? Why is there a need to inconvenience applicants by asking them to get certification from government doctors or the Health Ministry as well? That is not all! Why in heaven’s name do they need a photo showing the impaired anatomy? This is ridiculous. This is disregarding the dignity of disabled people. What? The doctor’s report is not good enough also? The OKU Card is not valid? The people in RapidPenang think the officers in the Department of Social Welfare do not know what they are doing?
Do the people in RapidPenang know what physical disability is in the first place? Can they determine that from a photograph? I am disabled from my chest down. Do I need to pose in the nude to prove it should I intend to apply for the card? Furthermore, why burden disabled people by asking them to incur extra expenditure in getting their anatomy photographed?
If RapidPenang is sincere in giving out concession fare to disabled people, they should make the process as simple as possible. An OKU Card issued by the Department of Social Welfare should be sufficient. I believe RapidPenang’s intention is to alleviate the financial burden faced by disabled people. This noble effort is spoilt by overzealous people that are not in touch with disability issues or have never met disabled persons before. Shame on you RapidPenang for degrading the dignity of disabled people.
After much protest from the disabled community in Penang, Rapid Penang finally revoked the condition for a photograph showing the body part of physical disability. This was conveyed through a mailing list. Rapid Penang also informed members of the mailing list that they have issued a statement to the media regarding this issue but I could not find the news report online. Nevertheless, Rapid Penang still made it mandatory for disabled people who want discounted fares to apply for the concession card.
For two consecutive days since yesterday, The Star published two news reports that senior citizens and disabled people who are registered with the Department of Social Welfare need only to show the OKU card to enjoy half fare on RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses. This should have been the case in the beginning. Who were the smart alecks in the Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad, RapidKL and Rapid Penang who imposed the previous conditions that only the concession card holders were eligible for discounted fares? After all that fuss, now all disabled people need to do is to flash the OKU card. What a waste of time and resources for everyone involved in the exercise.
But, do not be mistaken that disabled people can ride the RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses. Wheelchair users are still not allowed to board the RapidKL buses with the wheelchair logo that are running in the streets now. This is because the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) refused to give the go-ahead to RapidKL to endorse the buses due to safety concerns regarding the ramps and wheelchair docking systems. The buses were supposed to be officially launched by a minister on June 1, 2007. So now we have buses that were fitted with accessible features at great cost that wheelchair users cannot use. As far as I know BEAT has washed its hands off working with RapidKL on this issue and prefer to concentrate on AirAsia.
As for Rapid Penang, disabled people were informed that 40 of the 150 buses operated by the bus company had ramps for wheelchair users initially. Unfortunately, according to Rapid Penang, the bus stops were damaging the ramps and they had to be dismantled to avoid further damage to the buses. This is evidence of another slipshod work by the people involved. I believe no study was done to ascertain the condition of the bus stops and other infrastructure before the buses were fitted with the ramps. In addition to that, there is no communication between the bus operators, namely RapidKL and Rapid Penang with local authorities to come to an agreement on the standard design of bus stops and all connecting pathways to the bus stops to make them accessible and complement each other.
There was also talk that Rapid Penang will bring in another 100 buses with facilities for wheelchair users. If I am not mistaken, these buses were slated to be put on the road by the end of 2007. We are already into the second month of 2008 but no such buses are in sight. Disabled people have been disappointed again and again by one too many sweet assurances such as this. Despite all the hard work by disabled people and a small group of concerned supporters advocating for accessible buses in Penang, there is no hint that such buses will be made available in the near future.
Wheelchair users in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are still left out from the public transport system. There is no way to move around conveniently. To put it crudely, disabled people have been conned once again. Lets not talk about a masyarakat penyayang when there was never any sincerity in looking after the interests and welfare of disabled people in the first place. All my entries on RapidKL and Rapid Penang are ample proof of it. So what if I have the OKU card? So what if I can get 50% discount with it? There is no way I can ride on these buses. I would not mind being charged the full fare if the buses are wheelchair-friendly. But none are. Truly, disabled people have been taken for a ride over and over again. Apa macam Pak Lah?
Saturday February 9, 2008
MYT 8:13:36 PM
By K. SUTHAKAR
PENANG: Effective Monday, senior citizens and the disabled registered with the Social Welfare Department need only show the identification cards issued by the department when travelling on Rapid Penang and RapidKL buses to get a 50% discount.
To reduce red tape, the Government has done away with the requirement for them to apply for the Rapid Card, issued by the companies.
“We want to simplify things. It is sufficient for them to show the card issued by the department to obtain the 50% ticket concession,” said Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.
He was speaking to reporters at the St Nicholas’ Home here on Saturday.
Rapid Penang chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad, who was with him, said it takes about two weeks for the company to process each card application.
He said about 10,000 senior citizens and 400 disabled people travelled daily on Rapid Penang buses.
Nor Mohamed said the problems that prompted the one-day strike by Rapid Penang bus drivers last Monday had been resolved.
“It is a small problem. When there is a problem, we look at it positively and resolve the matter quickly,” he said.
Thousands of bus commuters rushing for work and last-minute Chinese New Year shopping were left stranded on Tuesday when the drivers brought transport to a standstill.
Sunday February 10, 2008
PENANG: From tomorrow, the disabled and senior citizens registered with the Social Welfare Depart-ment need only to show their identity card issued by the department to enjoy half fares on Rapid Penang and RapidKL buses.
To reduce red tape, the Govern-ment has done away with the requirement for them to apply for the Rapid Card issued by the companies.
“We want to simplify things. It is sufficient for them to show the card issued by the department to obtain a 50% ticket concession,” Second Fi-nance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop told reporters during his visit to the St Nicholas Home here yesterday.
Is the act of forcing wheelchair users sign indemnity forms before allowing them to board commercial flights a form of discrimination? That depends on who is answering the question. Some may ask why I am harping on this issue again. I am still annoyed, that is why. This entry is also inspired by a news article titled Airlines warned not to bar disabled in The Australian today. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and disability groups in Australia are pursuing cases against airlines that imposes discriminatory policies against disabled air travellers.
I have flown with Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. AirAsia is the only airlines that compels wheelchair users to sign an indemnity form before allowing them to board the aircraft. I have no complaints whatsoever against Japan Airlines. Their in-flight service was impeccable. I told them that I needed to go to the toilet at a certain time. The cabin crew came with an aisle chair right on the dot and assisted me to the toilet and back. I had several issues with Malaysia Airlines but they responded to my complaints politely when I wrote to them regarding the non-availability of an on-board aisle chair on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Incheon and back. They even offered me one complimentary return ticket to any destination in Asia to make up for the shortfall in service which I declined.
AirAsia? The reply to the entry that I forwarded to them was disappointing. According to them the indemnity form is a requirement by their insurers and they are working to remove that condition imposed on wheelchair users. It was a premature move on my part to kick up a fuss when the process was still on-going. Nevertheless, I would like to reveal the double-standard that is being practiced. Members of BEAT who fly with AirAsia are encouraged to call up the management to make prior flight arrangements where they may not even be compelled to sign the indemnity form. Wheelchair users who are not part of BEAT and do not have access to AirAsia management do not have that privilege as evident by the other two wheelchair users whom I witnessed signing the forms at Kota Kinabalu. What kind of advocacy is that?
Although I was advised beforehand to make prior arrangements I did not because I wanted to experience for myself the kind of procedures that wheelchair users have to go through. Only then could I discover the kinks in the system. Having experienced it and revealed the bad experience to members of BEAT, I was blamed for causing irreparable damage to the group. I was expected to channel my grievances through selected people who would then create avenues for me to voice out my dissatisfaction. Apparently, the truth had to be filtered to make certain parties look good. See the difference in the RapidKL advocacy where nobody in BEAT reacted to the entries that were critical of the bus operator. That tells a lot, does it not? Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi. That was why I left.
I shall not say more but allow my blogger friends cum disability advocates from around the world share with you their viewpoints on this issue of wheelchair users being compelled to sign indemnity forms.
My story – AirAsia Still Practices Discrimination Against Disabled People
Dr. Scott Rains – Picking on the Wrong Passenger: AirAsia Gambles on Discrimination
Eleanor Lisney – Air Asia Discrimination against disabled passsengers
Ivan Chew – Case of AirAsia and its provisions for People With Disabilities
Despite assurances by AirAsia CEO Datuk Tony Fernandes on July 20 and again on August 4 this year that disabled passengers will be treated with dignity, the airlines is still subjecting disabled passengers to discriminatory policies. I personally experienced this recently and I am not pleased at all. Even though I am part of a group that is working with AirAsia in addressing issues related to disabled passengers I am going to reveal this as I do not take lightly to being subjected to such practices.
Wuan and I flew from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu on October 27 without incident. We were allowed to board first. AirAsia’s ground crews carried me up the boarding stairs and into the plane. Wuan took the window seat. I was seated next to her in the middle. A young woman took the aisle seat. We had a wonderful flight and were all praises for AirAsia.
Not looking too pleased while waiting for an AirAsia staff confirm with
her boss whether I needed to sign the indemnity form or not.
Our journey back to Kuala Lumpur on October 30 was another story. I was required to sign an indemnity form to release AirAsia from all liabilities. I protested vehemently but was informed that if I refused I would not be allowed into the plane. When asked why I was not required to sign an indemnity form on the previous flight, the officer said she does not know but that was a requirement and I had to sign no matter what. I called up a staff from AirAsia Academy regarding this but she could not do anything.
I also witnessed several other disabled people on flights different from ours signing the indemnity form. As we did not want to miss our flight back, I relented but indicated in the indemnity form that I was signing under protest at being discriminated based on my condition. I paid the full fare like other passengers in the same flight but by signing the indemnity form, I was agreeing to give up my rights to hold AirAsia liable for damages, injuries or other claims even if those arose from the negligence of the airlines.
Signing the AirAsia Release and Indemnity Form under protest while two AirAsia staff looked on.
This in essence deprived me of the same rights as other non-disabled passengers. In AirAsia’s eyes, a disabled passenger is a person who has no rights whatsoever. By carrying me, I was supposed to be grateful. If I was injured, well, too bad. Additionally if I made AirAsia incur additional expenses due to their generosity in allowing me to fly with them I had to reimburse the amount. Where is justice in this?
The most preposterous part of this all was the last line which indicated that I signed the form on my own free will and was not under the influence of AirAsia or other parties. I was arm-twisted into signing it or risk missing my flight and AirAsia has the gall to add this nonsensical line which was truly adding insult to injury.
Release and Indemnity Form that AirAsia made all
wheelchair users sign at Kota Kinabalu International Airport before we
were allowed to board the aircraft.
Click on image for larger version.
That was not all. I was allowed to board first. One of the cabin crew indicated to the ground crews who carried me into the plane to place me on the bulkhead seat. I insisted on being seated on the second row. After kicking up a fuss, the cabin crew reluctantly agreed. I have poor balance. Bulkhead seats have extra space in front which does not give me anything to hold on to when the plane lands and decelerates. The sudden change in momentum will throw my body forward and may cause injury.
As we did on our flight from Kuala Lumpur, Wuan took the window seat while I sat next to her. The cabin crew insisted that I take the window seat. I told her that her colleagues in the previous flight and other airlines had no problems with me taking the seat of my choice. Still, she insisted that I take the window seat.
Instead of changing seats with Wuan, I took the aisle seat. The same cabin crew again approached me. She refused to listen to my explanations and was adamant that I take the window seat, citing that she had consulted the safety officer who was on-board. The reason was that I would be blocking other passengers’ path in case of an emergency evacuation if I was seated anywhere other than window seats. Not wanting to create a scene or being sent off the plane, I agreed to that too. Some disabled passengers are unable to move from the aisle seat to the window seat. I would like to see how AirAsia deals with that.
It is evident that AirAsia is not consistent in its policies with regards to disabled passengers. After those two incidents, I will never ever fly with AirAsia again unless they remove those discriminatory conditions imposed on disabled people no matter how attractive their air tickets are priced. I will not tolerate discrimination against disabled persons like those perpetuated by any party. Never mind the promises made by Datuk Fernandes. AirAsia is still practicing discrimination against disabled people. Most of all, AirAsia has ruined the beautiful memories I had in Kota Kinabalu on my honeymoon.
In December last year, Malaysia Airlines made Professor Yutaka Takamine sign an indemnity form before allowing him to fly from Japan to Malaysia to speak at the Real Access for Life (ReAL) Roundtable (Persidangan Akses untuk Kehidupan Sebenar) organised by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. Professor Yutaka revealed this to Dato’ Seri Shahrizat who opened the conference. Malaysia Airlines later apologised to Professor Yutaka and indicated that it was a mistake and not a policy to compel disabled passengers to sign indemnity forms. AirAsia better take note of this.