Tuesday, September 26

Misplaced priorities


The writer had to go on the road because there was no ramp to the walkway. Street furniture also blocked the passage making it impossible for wheelchairs to pass.

FOR most of last year, I hardly had time to gallivant around the neighbourhood. My wife and I left the house early in the morning and only arrived home late in the evening. As soon as we reached home, I had to connect to the peritoneal dialysis machine and spend the next 10 hours hooked up to it. Weekends were for catching up on lost sleep, resting and grocery shopping. I hardly went anywhere else.

Now that I have some time before I start training again, I would like to visit the shophouses a few hundred metres away from where I live. It has been more than a year since I have gone there. Some new food stalls have opened and I would love to try them out. I miss the atmosphere, the sounds, and smells of these places. Unfortunately, I am unable to wheel myself to the shops like I used to.

I previously wrote about this situation in this column last June. What happened was the walkways, which used to be wheelchair accessible, were dug out due to road widening. Instead of building ramps at the ends of the new walkways, they built three-inch kerbs. This makes it impossible for me to get onto the walkway independently.

I could go on the road which I did once. However, with two lanes in each direction now, traffic is moving faster than ever. A few cars passed by so close to the extent I could feel the wind brashly sweeping against my skin. There was a chance of a collision and I did not want to risk it. That was the one and only time I ventured onto the road.

Driving to the shops is not an option. The place is very busy during business hours. Empty parking bays would be hard to come by. For those reasons, I am back to square one, not being able to move about freely and safely in my own neighbourhood. The shops are so near yet so far. My wife has to order takeaways all the time because of this.

And people say they seldom see disabled people out and about. This is the reason. Many times, we are stuck at home because the built environment does not cater to our need for accessibility and safety. Going out is such a hassle and requires great effort that we’d rather stay home.

In the rebuilding of the walkway, the municipal council did not ensure the accessibility was retained. That was not all. Tactile guide paths were left out although there are blind residents in the neighbourhood. Fire hydrants and other street furniture were not relocated from their original positions. Most of them are right smack in the middle of the path blocking the smooth passage of pedestrians.

If only the municipal council had bothered to look up the data of disabled people kept by the Welfare Department, it would have known there are quite a number of disabled people living in the community. In fact, the World Report on Disability estimates that one in seven persons is living with some form of disability. This lack of facilities is hampering our participation in the community and in society.

To add insult to injury, bicycle paths were painted along the road. It defies explanation how the municipal council saw fit to include the needs of cyclists in the new infrastructure but totally forgot about the needs of disabled people which were already there in the first place before they removed them.

Cyclists without the bicycle lanes can still move about but wheelchair users without accessible walkways will be stranded. This is truly a misplaced priority.

The irony of this is that I’ve often seen cars and buses parked for long periods on these bicycle lanes, rendering them useless. This is a half-hearted effort and doing for the sake of doing only with no will to ensure it is properly utilised.

The Ampang Jaya Municipal Council had the opportunity to improve on the existing facilities but it failed to capitalise on it. From taking one step forward, it then took two steps backwards. Being the implementation and enforcement authority, it is showing a bad example by this blatant omission. How is it going to enforce the rules if it does not adhere to its own laws?

If the municipal council had kept the commitment it made in 2008 to make the housing estate a model of accessibility in the entire municipality and gradually expanded on it, this would not have happened. If the municipal council had bothered to comply with the laws it is supposed to enforce, this would not have happened. The code of practice on universal design and accessibility in the built environment clearly specifies the requirements.

Looks like I have no choice to but begin another round of complaint letters to the municipal council, the state assemblyman for this constituency, and other relevant agencies. To add in ramps and relocate the street furniture now is going to cost money. It would have cost little to nothing had it been done at the construction stage. That is why we always emphasise on doing it right the first time.

Having dealt with the same municipal council on several occasions previously, I can foresee this is going to take a couple of years to resolve. This is so frustrating. I have spent a good part of the last few years filing complaints and engaging with the relevant parties at my own time and expense, matters which the municipal should have done properly. It is wearisome having to do this all the time. But if I do not do it, who will?