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Wheel Power – Technology is good

Thursday, November 30, 2006
By Anthony Thanasayan

People with disabilities all over the world are looking forward to this Sunday which is International Day of Disabled Persons (IDD). This special United Nations Day has been observed every year since it was first designated in the early 1990s.

Disabled persons everywhere have been busy all week doing things that they and everyone once thought that they were incapable of. They are holding forums of their own and being interviewed by radio, television and the newspapers instead of having others speak on their behalf.

Some are putting together plays and various performances to bring across this message: "It's not our personal physical handicaps that stop us from being achievers but rather the lack of friendly facilities and opportunities in society that make us unproductive and dependent on others all the time.”

One of these areas is “E-accessibility” which has been picked for IDD"s theme this year.

In his message in conjunction with IDD, UN Secretary-General Dr Kofi Annan says the theme is a reminder to nations and societies around the globe on “the need to make the Internet available to everyone.”

“Access to information and communication technology creates opportunities for all people, perhaps none more so than persons with disabilities.”

He points out that as IT develops and becomes even friendlier to disabled users, “the barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats need no longer stand in the way of (their) participation.”

Dr Annan welcomes the efforts by governments and the private sector to make websites more accessible to disabled people.

Anthony Chong Vee Yee, 24, a fresh graduate of Computer Studies from a local college, says the introduction of the Internet and mobile phones have significantly transformed the lives of Deaf Malaysians and the way they now communicate with each other.

“We don’t have to depend on hearing people anymore to keep in touch with our friends and family,” says Chong who is Deaf himself.

Chong hails the latest 3G mobile phone technology in which callers can see each other on a picture screen during mobile calls.

“It has opened the opportunity for the Deaf to sign to each other with their hands on the mobile phone,” he explains.

“Affordability, however, is always a factor and it would help if the service providers can offer the Deaf discounted rates,” says Chong who is currently working as a production editor in a publishing company in Cyberjaya.

Aside from computers, public transportation has always been a problem for commuters with disabilities.

The recent addition of as many as 100 new buses by the RapidKL bus company naturally piqued our interest.

What disabled people want – nay, demand – to know is if the new buses will take on handicapped people with their wheelchairs, walking sticks, white canes, etc.

Access and Inclusion for the Disabled or AID, an ad hoc organisation comprising 10 national and regional registered disabled societies, including a consumer organisation, has been trying very hard to meet up with the bus company but sadly with little success.

In our letters to RapidKL, we expressed our concern that the buses should be disabled- and people-friendly.

We also expressed our desire to meet up with RapidKL authorities to present our expertise on how this could be effectively achieved.

However, I regret to say that as I write this, no meeting has transpired even though we had taken the trouble to make arrangements for a meeting at one of our venues.

RapidKL’s response was that they would get back to us. They also replied claiming that they were already in discussion with other disabled persons on the matter.

I hope that by saying this, they do not mean that our opinions and experiences with handicaps do not matter. It is a fallacy to assume that all people in wheelchairs go through the same experiences or that two disabled persons’ needs are exactly the same.

This also applies to the blind, learning disabled and the Deaf, like my e-mail pal Chong, who related to me his problems when he takes a bus: “I always worry if the bell to indicate a stop doesn’t work. Although it’s rude, I have to keep my eyes fixed on the other passengers to know if the contraption rings or not. If it does, they usually get distracted and look around. If it doesn’t, there is no reaction from them and I know something is amiss.

“This unnecessary anxiety for the Deaf can easily be solved by adding an electronic signboard that flashes 'STOP’ whenever the stop button is depressed. Only some buses have such a feature though,” says Chong.

We’ve not given up yet. We’re still hopeful that RapidKL will pick up the phone and call us!

See the articles from http://v1.dpi.org/lang-en/resources/details?page=781

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