Disabling Disabling the Disabled

It was a long day after classes and I was waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green. A visibly-impaired woman with a white cane stood beside me. When the light turned green, she didn’t budge. So I nudged her on. As I walked behind her, this admiration for her independence came to me. Using the yellow tactile blocks under her feet she made it all the way to Sentral and up the escalator all on her own.

Without the tactile blocks, it would daunting just to be out in the city. It is a shame that while the disabled are striving to be independent, the able-bodied people are not contributing much to help. Ironically, we’re disabling the disabled from progressing to become self-sufficient individuals.

While Brickfields is well-equipped with tactile blocks and ramps along pedestrian walkways (because the Malaysian Association for the Blind is in the vicinity), not all of them are barrier-free. With the construction of NU Sentral at Lot 8 going on, walkways are pretty much in a mess. With the heavy flow of pedestrians daily, five-foot ways are no longer capable of accomodating this surge. More often than not, rushing urbanites bump into the cautious blind. The huge pillars reduces the walkway to half its ‘walkable’ space. It’s inconvenient for able-bodied people (because Malaysians have yet to develop a mentality of the system of walking on the left), what more the disabled?

Other than the escalator, there isn’t any other way to get from Tun Sambanthan Road to Sentral. What about the wheelchair-bound? Ramps (like the one outside BAC) are simply too steep.

Lights at zebra crossings stay green for too short a time. The beeping sound (indicating ‘GO’) isn’t loud enough for the blind. And motorists scared the lights out of pedestrians when they stop so suddenly on the zebra crossing.

Only the Kelana Jaya Line train stations are disabled-friendly – elevators, wheelchair lifts, platform gaps smaller than 5 cm, straight platforms and ramps.

I remember Ida Nerina in her Crazy Sexy Honestly column in The Star wrote about finding a mirror in a disabled-friendly washroom a foot too high and thinking, “Yes, clearly designed by an able-bodied person.” I find many a time, disabled loos are used a storage for mops and buckets by janitors.

And then, there are the able-bodied Malaysians. They park in spots for the disabled and say, “I’m rushing. Cannot find parking lah.” And their concerns matter so much than to help a lost disabled person. It’s a shame that even a policeman who was sitting in the train ticket office didn’t seem very happy when I asked him to accompany a disabled man to get to the platform when his train came. Honestly, I was rather disgusted that a man in uniform was reluctant compared to the other passengers of the same train who were willing to help.

Despite by-laws that require buildings to be disabled-friendly, little has been done. If these facilities in KL aren’t up to standard, what about the other smaller cities and towns?

The government’s perpetual call for caring for the disabled is not reflected in the amenities and infrastructure. Worse, government buildings are so poorly equipped to accommodate the disabled eg. Kg Simee government clinic in Ipoh. It’s disgraceful.

It’s not pity or sympathy that the disabled community need or want. It’s a change in societal mindset and attitudes. Only when the government protects the interests of the disabled and when policy-makers are genuinely committed to aiding the disabled, can they have access to mobility and independence.

I cannot list down all the inconveniences that the disabled face in their daily lives which are related to public facilities, but I can only tell from my observances. I am physically able (thank God), but it does not mean that able-bodied people should leave the strive for an increase in government effort to integrate the disabled into society to the disabled only.

Their disability does not make them any lesser than us. It’s time we disable disabling the disabled.

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