MY most inspiring moments are frequently those spent with people with handicaps like myself.
Last Thursday was certainly one of them.
What a glorious occasion that turned out to be!
Nearly two dozen Malaysians with varying types of disabilities converged in front of a popular Chicken rice restaurant not far from my home in Petaling Jaya.
They did not turn up to cause trouble. Instead, they were there just to make a serious point about themselves.
They wished to let everyone know that even though as handicapped Malaysians they are not seen much in public it did not mean that they were not around.
“I want our country – and the world to know – that I am a Malaysian citizen too even though I seldom come out,” said a young woman in a wheelchair to the scores of newspaper reporters who came to cover the mini historic event.
“It’s not my fault that I have to be locked up at home all the time,” she added with a quiver in her voice as a press photographer aimed his camera close to her face.
“The total disregard of my local council to provide disabled-friendly facilities keeps me a constant prisoner in my house,” lamented the twentysomething resident outside of PJ.
She was making a comparison with the Petaling Jaya City Council’s (MBPJ) current universal design pavement project along Jalan Gasing that allows access for all persons to the situation in her local surrounding.
“How I wish that my local council had such foresight like the MBPJ to start including such features so that people like us and the elderly can also come out of our homes and do normal things like others.”
Popular blogger Ahmad Daniel Sharani, who is paralysed from his neck down also turned up for the event with his friend, another young man in a wheelchair.
The next day, he commented in his blog that he was surprised that some able-bodied people had objected to the disabled-friendly project by MBPJ.
“(The) stretch of pavement (is being) made . . . functional for everyone, . . . (including) . . . the able-bodied.
“Tell me if I’m missing out something here but when this project works in every single resident’s favour, I fail to see why the need for some quarters to bark about unnecessarily.
“Like it or not, this is what equal rights is all about. When all this while most pavements shut wheelchair-users from accessing on it, the new universally-designed footpath caters to both sets of users.”
The universal design also includes tactile flooring for the blind for independent travel.
The blind were rather tickled by the objection of some sighted people who thought that the project should have been done at another place where a popular eye hospital is.
“It is a myth to think that the blind can only be found in certain areas,” pointed out a blind representative from the Malaysian Association for the Blind in Kuala Lumpur.
“The blind, in fact, are everywhere. Many of us have lost our sight completely so there is no real need to visit an eye hospital,” he explained.
“It is wrong to think that the blind are a sickly lot and only need to go to hospitals. We go to normal places too like the bank, shopping centres, parks and places of worship.”
The Jalan Gasing project incidentally covers a church and a temple, a popular park, a couple of therapy centres and regular shops including eating outlets.
Two mothers brought their learning disabled children – both boys – to the outdoor press conference. One of them was so profoundly disabled that he had to be cared for by two caregivers.
I was amazed that he was able to stay for the full two hours of the event. He looked like he was having a great time.
Another boy, about ten years of age came with his mother who was also his single caregiver.
Both parents who reminded the journalists that they were both tax payers too, spoke of the horrors of how it was for them to take their disabled children anywhere.
The pavements are so unfriendly and hostile that they are often forced to wheel their kids on the side of the road against oncoming traffic instead of on a pavement that is safe for them and their children.
As the event drew to a close, with all the voices heard, the disabled community who turned up at least went away with some hope that morning.
They were glad to know that at least one council in Selangor, that is the MBPJ, was going about in the right direction in their forward thinking plans not for some but for all of its residents.
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