Making hospitals accessible – a few steps at a time


Participants present their action plan at the workshop.

HOSPITALS, with their high concentration of wheelchair users, are the last places disabled people would expect to face problems. This is where we go to first for treatments and follow-ups. However, we’ve often had to contend with multiple barriers while there.

Looking for parking at most government hospitals is difficult on weekdays, more so accessible ones that disabled people can use because these are even more limited. This is one of the reasons why my blood pressure is always elevated when going for check-ups apart from the anxiety of having to wait for a few hours before getting to see a doctor.

A mother with a disabled daughter recounted one such experience to me one day. She drove into an accessible parking space near the entrance to the hospital. Just as she was about to open the boot to take the wheelchair out, a security guard approached them.

He told her she could not park there. The spaces with wheelchair symbols painted on the ground were reserved for vehicles with disabled drivers only. When she asked him where she could park, he told her to drop the child at the entrance and park elsewhere.

The suggestion of leaving a severely disabled daughter to fend for herself was unconscionable. What if she could not find parking after searching for half an hour? What if her daughter needed attention in her absence?

Her protests fell on deaf ears. He was insistent. That was the instruction from the management. Faced with the dilemma, she decided it would be safer to get a parking space first and then get her daughter out from the car. At least she would not be left alone and unattended.

From whatever angle we look at it, allowing one group of disabled people to use parking while denying another group with similar needs smacks of discrimination and goes against the spirit of inclusion that all disabled people have been fighting for.

Having heard too many similar complaints from disabled patients and their carers, a group of occupational therapists from the University Malaya Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur were determined to resolve the problem.

They drew up a six-month action plan with the ultimate goal of getting the management to allocate more accessible parking spaces. If everything goes well with their proposal, an entire floor will be available for vehicles with disabled people going for their doctors’ appointments and therapies, regardless of whether they are drivers or passengers.

The plan was one of the four that were drawn up during the one-day Disability Equality Training (DET) workshop held last week. It was a collaboration between the hospital, Welfare Department and my training outfit.

Eighteen participants comprising medical officers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists from the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine went through a step by step process in getting to know disability from the perspective of disability rights.

The second group drew up a plan to equip the surau on every floor with chairs. This simple yet thoughtful gesture can make a lot of difference for people who cannot stand for too long during prayers. A suggestion to include instructions and materials for alternative methods of ablution was later incorporated into the plan as the tap for this purpose is located in a narrow space not accessible to wheelchair users.

The next two groups were concerned with the accessibility of training facilities for patients. The third group noted that the kitchen counter in the domestic room was too high for wheelchair users to use conveniently.

They proposed to either have the counter lowered or add another one that is lower, depending on the budget they could procure.

A heavy door can pose significant difficulties for patients with mobility impairments to move between rooms.

The fourth group proposed to make all doors in the wards easier to be opened. They plan to start with the door at the Independent Living Unit.

What I particularly liked about this workshop is that the participants being in the field of rehabilitation are acutely aware of issues that normally appear as minor to other people but may make or break the independence of their disabled patients.

With that in mind, they were meticulous with their analysis of the barriers in the environment and came up with ideas to improve the facilities or remove existing obstacles. All the four actions plans were feasible and can be realised within the six-month time frame.

They are the medical professionals who have been providing excellent outpatient rehabilitation services to me and countless other disabled people at one time or another. In all honesty, I dare to place the continuing care of my health in their hands without any reservation. It was therefore a privilege to be able to work with them in making the hospital more accessible.

The head of Department for Rehabilitation Medicine Associate Professor Dr Nazirah Hasnan was pleased with the outcome of the workshop. She has agreed to a review on the action plans after six months and has proposed three more workshops next year for the staff in other sections of the department. This will certainly keep me busy for a while.

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