Saturday, May 28

Stickers of inconvenience

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WOMEN, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim announced last week that the Road Transport Department (JPJ) started issuing accessible parking stickers early this month. She was reported to have said that 987 disabled persons have been identified as having driving licenses and are entitled to receive the stickers.

The lack of information in the news report on the requirements and process to apply for one led to speculation and confusion. Officers from the Department of Welfare (JKM) later unofficially clarified in Facebook that in Phase One of the roll out, the focus is on physically disabled drivers who are registered with the department, holding a valid Class A or A1 license and are driving JPJ approved modified vehicles.

Senator Bathmavathi Krishnan also circulated to NGOs and individuals the standard operating procedures (SOP) of this initiative issued by JPJ. Apparently, the standardising of the stickers had been discussed in the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) since 2009. She raised the matter again in the Dewan Negara in April. The Ministry of Transport in a written reply stated that the JPJ would give out the stickers beginning this month.

The local governments in Selangor and Penang have been giving out accessible parking stickers in their municipalities since 2009 and 2010 respectively. Vehicles with these stickers are allowed to use government managed parking spaces free of charge. However, disabled persons from other states have to resort to printing the stickers themselves or buying them from stationery shops.

Therefore, centralising the issuance and standardising the stickers is a good move. It allows for easy identification of vehicles that genuinely need to use accessible parking spaces. The implementation and enforcement of this system leaves much to be desired though.

In a discussion with my friend Wang Siew Ming, who is a paraplegic and drives a car with hand controls, he pointed out that the SOP states the modified vehicle must be registered in the name of the disabled person and classified as a disabled person’s vehicle.

Both our vehicles were registered under our spouses’ names and under a different category. We were of the view that the JPJ does not understand that not every disabled person can afford to buy a car or qualify for a bank loan. That alone disqualified our eligibility for the stickers.

He further added that JPJ requires a medical report for the conversion of Class D to Class A license. The process to obtain the medical report by itself is another tedious affair. All in, he counted that we will have to go to the hospital five times to get this document, from making appointments to see the doctor and therapist, undergo the evaluation and finally to collect the report.

I was issued with a Class D license after I passed the driving test although I had submitted the required medical report. Imagine the hassle I have to go through again to have my license converted due to this oversight by the JPJ.

The stringent conditions will make it very difficult and inconvenient for many drivers in a situation similar to mine to qualify for the stickers. It leaves us no choice but to continue using the unofficial ones we have been using all this while.

Disabled people in this country drive because of one simple reason. The public transport infrastructure is largely inaccessible to people with mobility impairments. Owning a car is not easy for many of us who generally have lower income and higher expenditure due to our conditions apart from the costs of petrol and maintenance for our vehicles. Other family members usually have to bear part of this burden. But that is what we have to do in order to move around. Otherwise we would be stuck at home.

Fitting the vehicle with a hand control device is not cheap. Getting it approved by the JPJ is tiresome. The running back and forth to get documents endorsed and the car inspected is an endeavour that demands a great deal of time, patience and effort. I know because my wife and I went through that process. We were luckier in the sense that Wang was there to help us with the documents and advised us along the way as he had gone through it earlier.

The main purpose of standardising the stickers was to prevent the misuse of accessible parking. The issuance of these stickers without a corresponding law to penalise abusers is an exercise in futility. With the responsibility of enforcement falling back on local authorities which have not been effective in stemming the problem, nothing much will come out of this as far as I can see. It must also be pointed out that many private car park operators are also half-hearted in ensuring that the accessible parking in their premises are not misused.

As far as I can see, this initiative was poorly thought out. Disabled members of the NCPWD who were supposed to represent the interests of the community have failed to advocate effectively to the JPJ in this matter.

What was supposed to protect our rights and make our participation in society more meaningful is miring us in bureaucratic red tape instead. The application procedures are disabling and tedious to fulfil. To some degree, it is even discriminatory as non-disabled drivers are not put through the same rigorous prerequisites.

One of the ways to solve the problems of misuse is to have the government gazette all accessible parking irrespective of whether they are publicly or privately owned to be strictly for the use of disabled persons only, reclassify the stickers to permits and issue it to all who are eligible, and make it an offence punishable under the JPJ Demerit Points System. No permit, no parking; it is as simple as that. Phone numbers of the enforcement agencies should be put up at these parking spaces for the public to report abuse of the facility.

Unless and until there is a radical change in policy and action within the government to dismantle all the officious attitude when dealing with matters of disability, disabled people will have to contend with all these systemic barriers. The disabled members of the NCPWD including Bathmavathi are in a position to chip away at those barriers and they should not let this opportunity to do that go to waste.

To become more effective representatives, they should also conduct regular dialogues with the community. It is only in engaging with us that they can truly understand the problems that we are facing. They can begin by taking note of our grouses against this issue and advise the JPJ to simplify the conditions for disabled persons to obtain the stickers.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.