Saturday, December 3

Change is possible


So near, yet so far. The non-working elevator prevented the writer from crossing the short distance to the other side.

WHEN it rains, it pours. How true that was for me earlier this month. I was just recovering from surgery and had started working. There is now a catheter sticking out from beside my navel. Another incision was made below my navel for inserting the catheter into my peritoneal cavity. This is for me to perform peritoneal dialysis. It was only two weeks after the surgery. My abdomen was still sore.

As I was being assisted into the KLIA Transit to get back to Kuala Lumpur after work, a failed wheelie over a small kerb nearly caused me to be thrown off the wheelchair. I do not know what would have happened if had I fallen off. Even then, the sudden jolt strained my abdominal muscles and caused intense pain to the surgical sites.

If you have been following my adventures previously, you would remember that I was thrown off the wheelchair in a similar incident. After that, Express Rail Link, operators of the KLIA Transit, instituted several changes to provide assistance to disabled passengers and fabricated a ramp to ease the boarding of wheelchair users.

I immediately informed the management about this second incident. They sent two representatives to greet me when I arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sentral to check on me and apologise for the mishap. We reviewed the causes and discussed what could be improved to prevent further accidents.

One of the reasons the accident occurred was because the person assisting me tried to get me into the train as fast as possible. The trains only stop at the station for two minutes. He should have observed better safety precautions by doing it step-by-step and slowly. Doing it that way would not take more than five extra seconds and would definitely not delay the train schedule. After making sure I was all right, the representatives took their leave.

I would usually catch a movie at NU Sentral while waiting for my wife to get off work. This is a shopping mall adjoining Kuala Lumpur Sentral. Our car is also parked there. Both buildings are connected by a long flight of stairs flanked by two ascending and two descending elevators. For wheelchair users, older people, travellers with heavy luggage, adults with prams, and people with mobility limitations, there is one elevator connecting the two buildings.

On that particular day, the elevator was turned off. I was told that each time it rains, rainwater would seep into the elevator shaft and cause a short circuit. That was not an isolated incident. It had happened many times before. I have been complaining to the management since January this year but no action was taken to rectify the faults.

In this era of modern construction, it is unfathomable that an elevator shaft could be so shabbily built. What is more embarrassing is that this is a major transportation hub serving major public transport lines right in the heart of the city.

Whenever the elevator did not work, I had to use a longer route, which is to cross a busy street with fast moving vehicles, get into a hotel, take an elevator up to the first floor, wheel down a steep ramp, open a heavy door, and cross a long corridor. It is impossible for me to accomplish the entire journey by myself.

The pain and trauma from the accident in the train coupled with the inability to cross over spoiled my entire day. I made a big fuss about it on social media and tagged the relevant organisations. After months of inaction, I suddenly received an invitation to meet with the shopping mall manager. It is funny, but sad at the same time, that polite complaints were never taken seriously. It was only after the issue became viral on social media that they scrambled to do damage control.

The writer and Meera (third right) with representatives from NU Sentral and Kuala Lumpur Sentral. Richard is at second left.

Meera Samanther, an activist I met at one of the workshops I conducted, accompanied me to the meeting. We met with Richard Anthony, general manager of Facilities Management of MRCB, the master developer of Kuala Lumpur Sentral together with representatives from NU Sentral and Kuala Lumpur Sentral.

It was a cordial meeting. Richard outlined the measures that were put into place to assist disabled people. First and foremost, repairs on the elevator shaft are underway. They are looking to waterproof the entire system to make sure it will work even when it rains.

Auxiliary police have been instructed to assist disabled people to cross over to the other side of the building should the lift be out of order. I noted that even using the longer route with assistance would be impossible if it is raining as part of it is uncovered. To mitigate that, Richard agreed to install a gate under a link bridge connecting both buildings. They are also interested in training their staff on proper ways to assist disabled people.

Just two days ago, I received a message from Richard. He shared two photographs of the newly-installed gate. I am happy with the outcome. Actions have been taken to ensure the safety of disabled people is not compromised and our convenience and access needs assured. The horrible week ended on a high note.

I have come to realise that whenever things are not right, we should make it a point to complain. Businesses can see complaints as opportunities to improve services and facilities, or nuisances that cost money to rectify and disrupt the smooth running of their operations.

Most of the large corporations I have engaged with have all shown that they are willing to make reasonable accommodations. What is important is that complaints must be constructive. Always be prepared to suggest feasible solutions. There is always room for both sides to come to a win-win solution. Change is possible. What I have done in the past two years is proof of that.