Saturday, September 26

Standing up for change


Photo shows the ramp used to ease boarding and disembarking for the writer when he uses the KLIA Transit at KL Sentral.

SOME friends have asked me why I continuously put myself in danger knowing that a fall could be fatal. This was regarding my commute to work using the KLIA Transit.

There is a six-inch gap between the train and platform, and two small kerbs at the entrance into the trains that could snag the caster of my wheelchair.

Recently, my caster hit one of the kerbs, which caused me to be thrown off the wheelchair and onto the floor. I recounted the accident in this column last week.

My persistence despite the risks wasn’t because I was brave, foolish or stubborn. I persisted because I have to use the train to go to work every day.

Each time I met with a near miss, I made it a point to file a complaint with the officer on duty. I was given assurances they would look into it. I was waiting for those assurances to materialise when the accident happened.

Yes, there are alternative modes of transport I could use but these alternatives come with their own risks as well. The consequences of an accident could be no less fatal. There is also the cost factor.

Having weighed all the pros and cons, I felt using the train was the most convenient and affordable option. The train terminal where I get off is only 200 metres to the training venue.

In the first place, public facilities and transportation should be safe and accessible to everyone. Disabled people should be able to use them without any hindrance and risk.

If I had to look for alternatives every time I faced a problem, I would soon run out of options. The places I could go to would become very limited. Very often, there are no alternatives. What happens then?

I have been restricting myself in that way for far too long. I stopped going to places that have poor accessibility. That was because those places aren’t essential to what I have to do on a daily basis. Here, I have to use the train every day.

I am tired of retreating. The situation remained the same each time I took a step back without doing anything about it.

My two visits to Japan opened my eyes. I am embarrassed to say I could move freely in Tokyo all the time while the built environment and public transport system in Kuala Lumpur is like a series of very difficult obstacle courses. If other countries can do it, why can’t we?

The Uniform Building By-law 34A and By-law 110A require buildings to be accessible to disabled people. Likewise, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 states that disabled people shall have the right to access public facilities and also to public transport facilities, among others.

The Malaysian Standard MS 1184:2014 Universal design and accessibility in the built environment – Code of Practice (Second Revision) provides requirements and recommendations to make the built environment accessible to everyone.

Therefore, there is no reason why buildings and facilities aren’t and can’t be made accessible. We have the laws and resources but these are often not implemented and enforced because the rights and needs of disabled people are delegated to the lowest of priorities regardless of whether our safety is at risk or not.

I also made a stand because if I don’t stand up for myself who will? If I do nothing but wait for other people to do it, nothing will get done. As it is, changes are already very slow in coming.

We must be proactive for change to happen. Nothing positive will come from giving advice, commenting or criticising while watching from the side-lines.

I am glad thesundaypost has given me this space for me to share the difficulties I go through time and again. What I experienced is a representation of a fraction of the difficulties disabled people in Malaysia have to grapple with every day.

Time and again, it was only after being exposed in this column that immediate action was taken by the offending parties. This is a sad state of affairs. This is how to get things done in this country.

The Express Rail Link (ERL), which manages the KLIA Transit has fabricated a ramp to bridge the gap and kerbs. I have used it three times. There is no fear of having my casters falling into the gap or hitting the kerbs.

However, my boarding at the KLIA terminal still poses some risks. Although there is no gap between platform and train, my front casters hitting the small kerb at the entrance can still make me fall. This kerb can be easily traversed by popping a wheelie. The station staff must be trained to do this. I have made this known to the officers as well.

I will be meeting with the CEO of ERL to better understand the measures they have taken and will be taking to ensure the safety of disabled passengers, especially wheelchair users. Hopefully, my journeys on the train after this will be safe and uneventful.