THE disabled and the elderly can enjoy a better quality of life only when the public infrastructure caters to their needs.
Most disabled look forward to these facilities and the first step is to make public places accessible to all.
With this in mind Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) conducted a seminar and workshop titled “Access Audit In The Built Environment”.
The session was attended by the disabled, architects and MBPJ’s planning sector officials.
Participants of the seminar were informed that there were 436,317 people with disabilities in the country registered with the Social Welfare Department as at December 2012.
The number is definitely more as many do not register their disabled children with the department.
Among those registered, the most common disability is autism, at 37%.
This is followed by physical disabilities (33.4%), visually impairment (9%), hearing impairment (3.3%), mental disability (3.3%), speech disability (0.4%) and other types of disabilities (4.6%).
During the workshop, several participants were made to lift a person in a wheelchair.
This gave participants an insight into the life of a wheelchair user and the importance to cater to their needs.
It took four average-built men to lift an adult seated on an electronic wheelchair.
Participants were also made aware that moving on an uneven road surface affected the spine of the wheelchair user.
This can worsen their health and result in serious long-term injuries.
The blind participants expressed their fear of falling while walking, because of poor road conditions.
They also highlighted that there were many poorly designed tact tiles placed along the walkways all over the country.
Other grouses were the non-disabled friendly government service counters and why it was important for architects to secure the fine details when designing public facilities.
International Islamic University Malaysia’s Professional Architect Audit Access consultant and lecturer Datuk Seri Dr Asiah Abdul Rahim said places of worship, regardless of religion, were mostly not disabled- friendly.
“We audited 300 places of worship in the country and only 25% were disabled friendly,” she said.
Dr Asiah said it was important for all disaster relief centres to have equipment to assist the disabled and the elderly.
“Flood relief rescuers must have the knowledge and be prepared to evacuate the disabled at any time,” she said.
Some of the ideas included installing sirens at flood-prone neighbourhoods.
When a disaster such as flood happens, the community and village leaders must inform the authorities of the houses with disabled occupants to ensure they are evacuated first.
On their part, the rescuers should come prepared with the necessary tools and equipment.
Views from the disabled
TV personality Ras Adiba Radzi, who was a participant at the workshop, said the community should be more sensitive to the needs of the disabled.
“Places of worship must be accessible to all,” she said.
She became disabled in 2002.
In some First World countries, the driving licences of those who park at the disabled parking spots would be suspended.
Ras Adiba shared an encounter with a mother who was showering her child in a toilet for the disabled.
“I was told to wait for over 20 minutes and I waited,” she said.
She said local governments should make the country accessible for the disabled, children and the elderly.
“I hope with more awareness on the accessibility issues in the country, more Malaysians and those who visit the country can move about without hindrance,” she said.
International Islamic University Malaysia economics lecturer Prof Dr Ruzita Mohd Amin said the disabled community also contributed to the growth of the country’s economy.
“We are taxpayers. Unfortunately we are automatically not allowed to enter buildings that are not accessible to wheelchairs.
“It then becomes exclusive instead of inclusive. This is where it becomes unfair because everyone has a right.
“We should start with the right mechanisms. Everyone has the right to have access to public buildings and transportation.
“The facilities must have connectivity, otherwise we cannot undertake the normal tasks like others,” she said.
Dr Ruzita said Malaysia has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010.
Malaysia also has the Disabled Persons Act which provides for the recognition of the rights of disabled.
“Unfortunately, there is still low awareness in regards to lack of enforcement.
“Sometimes even when the facility is provided, it does not comply with MS1184 Code of Practice for universal design,” she said.
Sazali Shaari, who is hearing impaired, said he was always armed with pen and paper to communicate via written words.
He also criticised the digital numbering system at most government buildings.
There are some 37,000 deaf people in the country.
“When the digital system is faulty, we will not know when is our turn because we cannot hear.
“I have waited in hospitals for an entire day because I could not hear my number being called.
“Do not use wooden doors, so that you can see if someone with disability is waiting to see or communicate with you,” he said.
Sazali said the deaf and the blind rely heavily on their mobile phones and they hope to have special rates for the disabled community.
“We need to use smart phones and they are expensive,” said Sazali who is married and has five children, including one who has hearing impairment.
He said the deaf pay the full amount for toll charges but if their vehicles break down, they cannot use the emergency phones along the highway because of their hearing.
“If there is a fire, we will not know because most buildings rely on the siren.
“What if we are in the hotel room, how are we to know there is a fire?” he said.