Tuesday, November 19

‘Remove barriers for people with disabilities’

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Ng (left) pouring Tan some water before a plenary session at the conference.

KUCHING: People with disabilities, though a part of society, do not always have accessibility, said Peter Tan, a disability advocate and columnist.

“It’s not that we do not want to go out, but we are unable to move around due to barriers,” he said when met by The Borneo Post at an international conference ‘Disability Studies: Heading in the Right(s) Direction?’ at a leading hotel here yesterday.

Tan, who is a columnist for The Borneo Post for over a year now, said local authorities throughout the country were supposed to make sure buildings were accessible to the disabled community.

“They are required under the Building By-Laws enforced in 2001 or 2002 to do so. The by-laws say that old buildings will be given five years to be made accessible to the disabled.

“That means by 2006, all buildings were supposed to have such functions but it’s now 2014 yet not many of them have done it.”

He said even if some developers complied with the by-laws, the end products did not fulfill the code of practice. For instance, some ramps erected outside the building were too steep, and the toilet for disabled persons might not be spacious enough.

He recalled visiting the washroom of a building in Penang where he was stranded for a while.

“There was a sign saying the toilet is for the disabled. But the space was so narrow that I could barely go in. Once I got inside, I found myself unable to get out as there wasn’t enough space. I had to stay there until a friend of mine came for me.”

Tan, who injured his spinal cord at the age of 18, said many disabled people also struggled from a lack of public transport.

“I drive a car not because I can afford it but I want to move around,” quipped the Penangite.

He felt that the community at large remained ignorant of the needs of disabled persons.

After 30 years of relying on a wheelchair to go around, he noted that removing barriers for the disadvantaged group of society was done at a slow pace, and that more could be done for more disabled individuals to become independent.

Tan is in town with his wife Ng Swee Wuan for the three-day conference. They are leaving tomorrow (Nov 22) after the conference.

The Borneo Post also spoke with Ng, who opined it would do good to educate Malaysians about disability from young.

She said the authorities together with the community could contribute towards enhancing accessibility for the disabled community.

“We can start from schools by allowing disabled children to study and mingle with non-disabled children. This has to start from young so our society can be more understanding.”

A change of attitude was also expected from the community, she said, citing motorists who occupy parking lots reserved for the disabled for the sake of convenience.

“Many of them think they are using them just for a while, but they should put the real need of others before their convenience or laziness.”

Tan is conducting a workshop on Disability Equality Training (DET) that focuses on changing mindsets and breaking barriers. DET, which explores the causes of disability and how to remove obstacles for the disabled, is an empowerment process for everyone.