Thursday December 6, 2012
For a barrier-free city
By ANTHONY THANASAYAN
The challenges in making our cities accessible for the disabled are all too real.
INTERNATIONAL Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed on Dec 3 every year. It draws attention to the plight and struggles of disabled people around the world.
This year’s theme is “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.” This theme zeroes in on the underlying issues that the disabled in our society faces.
It is not our physical or mental conditions that hinder us from living normal lives. Rather, it is the attitude of people and the physical barriers that we are forced to put up with every day.
Last Friday, a group of experts from the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) initiated a move to try and change all that. Personnel from MBPJ’s planning, engineering, housing and landscape departments converged on the ground in an effort to build a disabled-friendly city. I was part of the team.
We needed a model of a truly disabled-friendly place, and selected Section 52 – the heart of Petaling Jaya – as our target.
Our audit exercise began with a breakfast briefing to remind everyone to look out for anything that was an obstruction to wheelchairs, walking sticks and white canes. The goal wasn’t just about access for wheelchairs or providing yellow guiding blocks for the blind. Rather, it was to put ourselves in the shoes of the disabled so that they would feel a sense of confidence when they visit our city.
We took note of the following pointers:
Wheelchairs: Ramps should be gentle from start to finish, so that users need not struggle to get to the top, or risk losing control when descending. Ramps should accommodate the various levels of disabilities. Back entrances should be avoided at all cost to safeguard the dignity of the disabled.
White canes: Tactile pavements should not run into trees. They should be clearly marked, especially when hazards abound. Illegal hawkers should not abuse these pavements and park their stalls there.
Here are some of the problems we encountered as we made our way from MBPJ’s headquarters to New Town.
Kerb ramps: Many of them do not level properly with the road to allow wheelchair and pram access. The gradients are also difficult to manage.
Traffic lights: These should be provided with sound signals for the blind. Those that do, need to be maintained. Faulty ones should be promptly replaced.
Corporate social responsibility: We encountered numerous split-level pathways at the shops that only provided steps. Businesses should adopt some wise practices by levelling their floors or providing wheelchair ramps to attract more customers and cater to an aging population.
While we were conducting our survey, we came across several elderly persons with walking sticks, struggling to get up the steps.
Covered car parks: This is one of our goals for next year. MBPJ will step up efforts to ensure that such car-parks are not abused by the non-disabled. Those who abuse this facility will have their vehicles towed away.
The close to three-hour access audit exercise only allowed us to cover a part of Section 52. MBPJ will be conducting several more visits until the whole of Section 52 is covered.
We will be looking into the latest designs for accessibility, and include them in our projects. Our team looks forward to the challenges that await us in our quest to build the first local council with full disability access in the country.
MBPJ will be observing International Day of Persons with Disabilities at 1 Utama Shopping Complex, from 10am to 1pm, this Saturday. Disabled persons and their caregivers and supporters are invited to the event which will be held at the main entrance of the ground floor, new wing.