TRANSIT notes this column from activist Anthony Thanasayan, commenting on improvements to accessibility and universal design in some sections of Petaling Jaya, comparing the PJ that he lives in now with the PJ that he grew up in.
Thursday July 1, 2010
By ANTHONY THANASAYAN
A new world opens up for the disabled.
THIS is it, folks: the end of the road for me as councillor of Petaling Jaya (MBPJ). I have been told that the positions of all local councillors in the state will cease to exist next Tuesday.
A new list of councillors, comprising old and new faces, will be sworn in on Wednesday. And they will carry out their duties for the next 12 months.
At the time of writing this article, I do not know if I will be in or out of that list.
All I can tell you is that the experience of serving the people of Petaling Jaya in Selangor has been a challenging task for me.
It was exactly on this day today, two years ago, when the council’s wheelchair-friendly van arrived at my home to take me to the swearing-in ceremony. I recall even pinching myself several times during the journey to convince myself that it was not a dream.
There was good reason for my cynicism. Here was a local council that I had serious issues with for nearly all of my life. It had virtually ignored all of my special needs as a boy in a wheelchair.
I was forced to stay indoors because the city – which was a town then – had totally disregarded my basic needs in its infrastructure.
As a result, I couldn’t go to school, or play with my friends in the neighbourhood. I couldn’t even visit the park that was only a stone’s throw away from my house because the PJ town council obviously thought that someone like me didn’t exist. Or worse, wasn’t worth the effort.
(Unfortunately that is still the sad state of affairs with many of the other local councils, not only in Selangor, but across the nation).
The pavements were too high for my wheelchair, the park’s entrances were too narrow, and the toilets were inaccessible.
Today, PJ is a lot more wheelchair-friendly. The park near my house now has an entrance that is accessible to wheelchairs and prams. There is a clever design in the shape of a U-turn that keeps out motorcycles.
Another notable improvement was the universal-designed pavement of about 500m along Jalan Gasing.
Such projects opened the floodgates for a special group of people who have been marginalised by society in the way we plan our towns and cities.
Elderly residents aided by their caregivers are now able to access the park in their wheelchairs and walking sticks for some exercise and fresh air.
Mothers with prams, the blind and even children can now walk safely to the nearby shops, a church, a temple and a public park that the special pavement covers.
Some people (who weren’t elderly or disabled) complained that it was a waste of money and effort. The changes in the park also drew a similar reaction.
They obviously were not aware of the increasing number of disabled people in the country. They failed to see that in the next generation, there will be more senior citizens than children, and that our nation would have an aging population. Disability would be a key consideration among this elderly group.
So now is the opportune time to start building a city in anticipation of the needs of an aging population.
Recently, the MBPJ Planning Department undertook a commendable task.
They decided to go to the homes of the disabled and the elderly in the poorest parts of PJ, to offer them assistance.
In the middle of next month, a special team will be knocking on the doors of these homes to see in what area they need help.
They will be given assistance to register with the relevant bodies at the local and federal levels for financial aid. Those requiring medical treatment will also get the assistance they need.
For the bedridden, wheelchairs will be provided. Renovations to their toilets will be done at MBPJ’s expense to make them disabled-friendly.
Thank you to Anthony for sharing your experience of growing up disabled in Petaling Jaya. We hope that the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council will continue their efforts to improve Petaling Jaya as well as to educate people about universal design and better communities.