Saturday February 14, 2009
Plight of the disabled
By LOOI SUE-CHERN
TOILETS for the disabled are often too small or are locked.
These are some of the problems faced by the disabled at some places in Penang, said Society of Disabled Persons (Penang) former president Tan Kuan Aw.
Tan, who is wheelchair-bound, said there were also toilets for the disabled which had been turned into storerooms because the managements of buildings where these toilets are located think not many people use them.
He said there were specifications that must be complied with when facilities for the disabled are provided such as handrails for ramps.
But after studying the situation in Penang for a decade, Tan did not think the local authorities were serious when it came to ensuring that these specfications were adhered to.
“The setting up of a barrier-free facility like a toilet for people with disabilities just for the sake of it is a misunderstood concept. There are Sirim standards and requirements that need to be followed,” he said in an interview.
A check by The Star in public places around Penang proved Tan’s descriptions of several public toilets accurate.
One such toilet in a building along the Jelutong Expressway was so small that a disabled person in a wheelchair would find great difficulty to close the toilet door from the inside.
Tight space: A woman in wheelchair demonstrating how difficult it is to use the cramped toilet for disabled persons.
The reason for this, apart from the size of the toilet, is that the toilet door opens the wrong way. It opens inward, instead of outward or sliding.
Another toilet for the disabled persons in a shopping mall is occasionally locked and those who want to use the facility must find the cleaner who has the key, as instructed by a sign stuck to the door.
As for ramps, Tan said some were built without handrails. But in the case of the ramp at the Taman Sri Pinang flats on River Road, it was crossbars that has become a barrier for the disabled.
Stumbling block: A ramp with handrails is provided at Taman Sri Pinang but disabled persons, especially those in wheelchairs, cannot proceed further with the locked crossbars blocking the building’s entrance.
Although the ramp has handrails, it is not barrier-free as there are crossbars at the bottom to prevent motorcyclists from using the ramp.
Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) committee member Lim Kah Cheng, who is an ardent activist for people with special needs, said the bars could also be a hindrance during emergencies like fires.
She said ramps could be designed in a way that motorcyclists could not misuse them, adding that the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) had agreed to look into the matter.
“Instead of a ramp, a winding path that motorcyclists will find difficult to manoeuvre their vehicles on can be considered. The council already has the design which is not costly to follow,” said Lim, who is also an MPPP councillor.
Her other complaints include the putting up of signboards, road signs, advertisement boards and other obstructing objects in the middle of pavements or walkways; and high pavements.
Lim said the trick would be to get things right the first time – constructing buildings and providing public facilities that were universal.
“If you build a ramp, build one that is for everybody. What is good for the disabled is good for everyone else,” she added.
Danger lurks: This bus stop at Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong is unsafe for disabled persons, especially for the visually impaired and those in wheelchairs.
MPPP president Datuk Zainal Rahim Seman, when contacted, said the council would take serious note of the problems faced by the disabled with the existing facilites.
“Our officers will conduct checks on these facilities to see if they comply with the required standards. If developers do not comply with building requirements, we will not grant them the CFs,” he added.