Thursday, July 21, 2005

Obstacle Relay in Singapore

I am a newbie at using the wheelchair. I am still learning to wheel myself around as best as I could manage – my arm muscles are not very strong yet . I find it extremely difficult to push myself up steep slopes, and I feel nervous when I have to wheel myself down any slopes. Nonetheless I cherish my independence and I still try to go about my daily life as independently as possible.

Since June, I have found myself much confined to my home, daring to venture out only when absolutely necessary – such as when I have to keep medical appointments, or when I need to go to the atm to get cash. At such times, my family members are not always available to come along with me to help me with my wheelchair. Then I find myself having to stick out my chin and grin, and steel my resolve to overcome all kinds of obstacles if I wish to still remain sane upon arriving home.

Listed below are some of the obstacles I have had to face :

I face great difficulties with HDB lifts when I am on my own.

-> At the lift lobby, to enter the lift, I have to wheel myself up a slope. To do that, I need both hands to manoeuvre the wheels, but while my hands are busy wheeling myself up the slope and towards the open doors, they can’t be used to press the buttons on the wall to keep the doors open. Most of the time, before I could manage to wheel myself up the slope and into the lifts, the doors start closing on me!

->When I finally succeed in getting into the lifts, there is no space for me to turn my chair around to face the doors – not even when I am the only one in the lift. Hence, when the lifts get to the ground floor, and the doors open, I have to wheel myself out backwards. That means I have to wheel down another slope outside the lift, but this time doing so backwards, hoping that I would not collide into anyone or worse still, lose control of my wheelchair and crash into the drain at the edge of the lift lobby.

I get stranded in the void deck / car park because of blocked access way.
-> When I need to get from the void deck to the car park (and vice versa), there is only one access way for my wheelchair. This access way connects the void deck of my block to a car park lot which is reserved for Disabled Motorists. My able-bodied neighbours, unfortunately, think nothing of parking their cars in that reserved lot. When they do that, their cars block the access way and my wheelchair cannot get from void deck to car park or vice versa. I get stranded in the void deck and either have to wait for the parked car to move out, or to give up and go home. It is worse when I am stranded in the car park. I am so close to home and yet I can’t get home.
->When the access way is blocked, I try to enter the building or get to the lift lobby and/or void deck via alternative pathways, but I find myself obstructed by kerbs everywhere. Every which way I turn, I find kerbs, kerbs, kerbs, and more kerbs! There are kerbs everywhere! This problem with kerbs is not just confined to the HDB estate. It is the same everywhere in Singapore.

->When I move around in public-access areas, there are stairs everywhere!

->When I try to look for a ramp or a slope which I could use to wheel myself into a building, I find ramps or slopes with steep and unsafe incline. They are incredibly steep and unsafe to use. It is as if those ramps were not built for wheelchairs, but rather were meant for trolleys used in loading and unloading goods.

->When I cross roads at Pedestrian Crossings, I have to dodge some inconsiderate and impatient fellow-citizens who cut into the path of my wheelchair.

Parents who do not restrain their children and allow them to run ahead and sometimes right into the path of my wheelchair, causing me to jerk to a stop before my wheelchair crash into them, openly show their annoyance at me for “endangering” their kids!

I find myself not only having to worry about getting across the road before the flickering green man turns red on the lights, but also having to deal with hostility from impatient able-bodied fellow citizens.

->At Pedestrian Crossings and Zebra Crossings, to get from the road onto the pavement, there is always a bump where the road meets the pavement.

This bump is present because the pavement’s level is slightly higher than that of the road. The level of the pavement and the road is hardly ever made to meet smoothly. I have to wheel myself up and over this bump. If not careful, my wheels hit the bump and they get caught momentarily. The wheelchair then jolts to a stop. This sudden jolt could cause any unwary wheelchair-user to be thrown forward, or even catapulted out of the seat and onto the ground.

If this were to happen when the traffic lights turn to give right of way to motorists, the wheelchair user may not be able to get off the road fast enough to be out of harm’s way.

->Taxi stand queues never accommodate people in wheelchair. The space between railings at taxi stands is never wide enough for wheelchairs to go through. How am I supposed to join the queue to wait for a taxi? I can't abandon my wheelchair in order to get in line.

->When I am at payment counters trying to make payment for my purchases at departmental stores, the cashiers behind their high counters cannot see me and seated in my wheelchair, I cannot reach up to the counters to set my purchase items down so as to free my hands to take out my money. In some stores, they have these chains or ropes to indicate where you are supposed to queue to pay. It is almost always too narrow for me to go through in my wheelchair. When I wait at the side, the cashiers ignore me or they chide me saying, “Please join the queue!” We have a long way to go before we can see a gracious society!

->Then there are those public toilets in shopping centers where they have not forgotten to designate cubicles for wheelchair users, but have somehow overlooked the fact that their toilets can only be reached by climbing a flight of steps. Why can't they locate the toilets in a more accessible place? If I was out alone, with no one to help me with my wheelchair, I wouldn't be able to climb stairs, not even if there were ONLY three or four steps leading to the public toilet's entrance.

->Last but not least, the greatest obstacle, of course, is my financial ability. How long can I sustain my ability to travel by taxi all the time? Yeah, yeah, yeah, there is now the MRT trains, but they are only wheelchair-user-friendly at certain stations, and getting to the MRT stations in itself presents enough obstacles and challenges! I can't hop onto a feeder-service bus to take me to the nearest MRT station, you know?!

WHO are our town planners? Who is responsible for planning, designing and building our towns and estates, who is responsible for building our roads? Who has a say in approving the designs for our buildings? Who is responsible for teaching and training our architects?

I say, “Put these people in wheelchairs and have them live their lives, visit friends living in HDB estates (if they have any friends living in HDB estates?!) and get them to move around Singapore independently , going about on public transport, for a fortnight or two. Let them experience what life is like for wheelchair users. Then, maybe their “CQ” (what I call “Compassion Quotient”) will be awakened and/or increased.”

Till then, I shall continue to live bravely and keep optimistic – after all, our Prime Minister did promise that ours will be an inclusive society where the able-bodied and the disabled will equally have a rightful place on this island which we call Home. That, would be the Singapore I want!


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4:42 PM  
Blogger cindy said...

i understand your frustrations too. I was on crutches once for 7 weeks and I have faced the same problems. Don't give up k? we'll get there one day.

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