Saturday, May 28

Of small inconsideration and great inconveniences

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VACATIONS are about the only time I get to go on walkabouts. I cherish being out in the open. It is a refreshing change from being cooped up at home most of the time. On the other hand, the walkabouts can be arduous not only for me but my wife who has to help me up and down kerbs, negotiate narrow pathways and go up steep ramps.

The challenges have not deterred us from enjoying the occasional breaks we take to get away from the hectic routines of city living. We went for a short holiday in Penang last week. Going back to my hometown has become an annual ritual for us. We stayed at a hotel along Gurney Drive, a seafront promenade stretching almost two kilometres from end to end. It is one of the popular destinations for tourists to the island.

We woke up earlier than usual one morning to take a stroll to the market nearby for breakfast. The gentle breeze that was blowing in filled our nostrils with the salty smell of the sea. Towering casuarina trees shaded us from the morning sun. It was a beautiful day to be out.

There were wide pedestrian walkways on both sides of the road but no kerb ramps until further up. We made our way carefully on the road, mindful of the fast oncoming traffic zipping by just a whisker’s breadth away from my wheelchair. Although I have gone through similar experiences many times, it was still harrowing nonetheless.

Imagine my exasperation when we arrived at the ramp only to discover a car blocking the access to it. The signpost there clearly indicated it was also a pedestrian crossing for blind people. There was no way the driver could have missed it. We snapped some photos of the offending vehicle and uploaded them to Facebook. With no way to get up the walkway, we had no choice but to continue our journey on the road.

On our way back to the hotel after a hearty meal, we found the car still blocking the ramp. By then, my friends in Penang who saw the post in Facebook had already reported to the authorities. I was later updated by one of them that the car was no longer there when the tow truck arrived. However, action would still be taken against the car owner based on the photo and the reports lodged.

On our way back to Kuala Lumpur, we stopped at a lay-by along the expressway to buy some fruits. There were two accessible parking spaces. One was taken up by a van bearing the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) logo. I parked at the other spot.

Several men sporting the DSW vest trooped into the van when we were about to leave. Neither the driver nor the other passengers appeared to have any impairment that warranted the use of the space. I asked one of them if the vehicle was ferrying a disabled person. He replied that there was. When I asked where the disabled person was, he responded ambiguously and then climbed into the van.

I filed a complaint with the Director-General of DSW together with photo and video evidence the same evening we got back. She replied early the next morning and assured me that the matter would be investigated and appropriate action taken.

The officer tasked with responding with my complaint officially informed me that the driver was reprimanded and warned not to repeat it. Apparently, the reason proffered was that one of the officers was suddenly stricken by gout while on duty. He could not walk far. Therefore the driver had to use the accessible parking space.

If that was the case, the officer I asked at the rest stop could have explained the situation instead of brushing me off with a vague reply. I was told that the Director-General personally called up the relevant sections to initiate an investigation into the complaint.

These incidents were not isolated cases. It is happening all over the country all the time. Disabled people have to contend with these difficult situations each time we go out.

Everyone who is affected or abhor such transgressions can play their part by reporting it the authorities like what my friends and I did. We need to be proactive and vocal. I am thankful for non-disabled friends who are sensitive to such issues and are willing to act on it.

For people who misuse the facilities, all I ask of them is to consider the hardships it could cause to disabled people. A little consideration on their part will go a long way towards making our lives afer and more convenient.

I must say that my wife and I had a great time the few days that we were in the island. We caught up with both my maternal aunts who are in their eighties and seventies respectively. They have always been concerned for my wellbeing, treating me like I am still their little nephew. We also got to meet some friends while enjoying some of our favourite hawker food.

Going back to Penang has always been a pleasure. We would have had an even better time had there been more accessible facilities.