IT was impossible to miss the wheelchair logos painted on the pillar and floor. The signboard at the front of the parking space indicated that vehicles without a sticker would be clamped. A penalty of RM100 would be imposed for the clamp to be removed.
This fashionable middle-aged lady parked there anyway. Neither she nor her companion was in a wheelchair. They also did not display hints of having mobility impairments to the extent that they needed to use the space.
As they were walking away, I wound the window down and pointed out that her car was parked in a lot designated for disabled persons. Even if I had not indicated that to her, she would have seen the signboard with the warning. Moreover, the space was wider than regular parking spaces. Surely, she would have noticed that too. She asked me if I needed to use the space. Even if I did not, she should not have parked there. Her companion saw the big wheelchair logo on my windscreen and embarrassingly pointed it out to her.
She got into the car and drove off looking for a parking space elsewhere. I parked my car in the space while her companion stood by at a distance waiting for her and watching my wife Wuan take the wheelchair out from the boot and assembling it.
As a comparison, an accessible parking space according to the Malaysian Standard MS 1184 should have dimensions of 3,600mm x 4,800mm while a regular parking space is 2,400mm x 4,800mm. The extra space is to accommodate a wheelchair and for the disabled person to get out or into the vehicle. Accessible parking spaces are usually located near entrances to buildings. This is so that wheelchair users do not need to negotiate long distances across the car park and risk being run over by vehicles along the way.
This strategic location is also crucial for the safety and security of disabled persons should they need assistance.
People such as the lady driver have no qualms about taking accessible parking spaces even when there are clear markings on the pillar, floor and threat of punitive measures. They are oblivious to the hardship and endangerment they cause by mindlessly using the few accessible parking spaces available.
Another facility that is often abused is the accessible toilet. I did a cursory survey and discovered that on the average, for every one accessible toilet, there are at least eight other urinals and toilet stalls for men and an equal number of toilet stalls for women on one floor in a major shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.
At this grossly disproportionate ratio, there are still non-disabled persons who prefer to use accessible toilets for one reason or another. The worst offenders are those that hide inside the toilet to smoke. I once caught a woman who did that on two consecutive days in the same toilet. When she opened the door on both occasions, it reeked of cigarette fumes.
I scolded her the second time. She ignored me and scuttled away. There have been instances where I found shoe prints on the toilet seat. It defies logic why someone who has the adeptness to perch on a toilet seat would need to use an accessible toilet. Soiled seats prevent disabled persons from using them until they are properly sanitised.
While I am all for the equitable use of public facilities, non-disabled persons have to bear in mind that the number of accessible toilets are very limited. Once the fittings inside are damaged due to abuse and frequent use, they can no longer be used by disabled persons. And it may be the only one such toilet in an entire building. Emptying the bladder at regular intervals is important to many wheelchair users. Failure to keep to this routine may cause urinary tract infections and vesicoureteral reflux, an abnormal condition where the urine flows back to the ureters and kidneys. Both could cause serious damage to the kidneys. It is therefore vital for accessible toilets to be kept in good functional condition for the very persons they were meant for as and when required.
To prevent these facilities from being abused, property managers have resorted to barricading parking spaces and locking toilets. While these measures are effective in thwarting misuse, they are also an inconvenience. Disabled persons needing to use these facilities then have to look for the security personnel to remove the barricade or the cleaner to unlock the toilet door.
The Uniform Building By-Law 34A requires that all buildings must be accessible and be designed with facilities for use by disabled persons. However, these facilities are very limited in numbers due to the lack of enforcement. Local authorities are lackadaisical in ensuring that developers comply with the required provisions. This together with rampant misuse exacerbates the situation.
Accessible facilities are there for a purpose. They enable disabled persons to realise meaningful participation in society with dignity and convenience. They are the only ones that disabled persons can use. As such, it is good manners to not use these facilities if one does not need them. A little consideration can go a long way in making society a better place for everyone.
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