Valuable lessons can be learnt from other societies where humanity towards people with disabilities is not a ‘one-off’ but a way of life. Angeline Loh reports from Ireland.
I was travelling in a local double-decker bus in Wicklow, Ireland, and saw something I had never seen in Malaysia.
This was rural Ireland, but buses were frequent, even if they came only at hourly intervals, they were more or less on time as scheduled. I was on the way to Bray, a seaside town on the Wicklow coast.
As the bus wound its way round the small country roads and parts of the highway, it came to a stop in the suburbs of a place called Greystones, where a man was sitting in his electric wheelchair waiting for the bus. The bus driver manoeuvred the huge double-decker bus as close to the curb as possible where he could release the automated platform to allow the man in the wheelchair to board the bus.
But the bus didn’t seem to be in a suitable position and the man told the driver so. The bus driver, at once got back in the driver’s seat and let the bus roll forward about a foot more. He then released the platform onto the pavement and the man wheeled himself onto the bus.
That was not the end of the procedure; the man manoeuvred his chair in the narrow space between the bus aisle on the lower deck, next to the stairs leading to the upper deck of the bus. He did it expertly, and the passenger in the nearby seat immediately helped by allowing him room to manoeuvre. The man was in the space provided for wheelchairs in a few seconds.
What impressed me most was the kindness, patience and cooperative humanity with which people with disabilities in Ireland are treated.
The pavements in Dublin city as well as those in villages and small towns like Bray and Greystones are planned and constructed to accommodate wheelchair users. They are only an inch or less above road-level and pedestrian crossings are often gradually raised and paved to slow down vehicular traffic, allowing pedestrians and wheelchair users to safely cross roads when the green pedestrian light comes on.
It seems customary for motor-vehicles to stop to let pedestrians cross the roads, even if there is no pedestrian crossing at a road junction unless drivers can’t slow down immediately. Pedestrians are the judges of their own safety, then.
A number of wheelchair users were around Bray town centre, busily going about their daily lives as able-bodied persons do. They appeared reasonably independent and were treated with consideration by both young and older ablebodied people.
Standing at the bus stop, on my way back to where I was putting up, a woman whizzed past in her wheelchair, inadvertently dropping her coat on the pavement. A teenage boy also waiting at the bus stop called out to her, picked up her coat and ran to give it to her, as she was unaware she had dropped it. I am sure there are kind people in Malaysia who would also help a person with disabilties in a similar situation.
But, the sad thing about Malaysia is that such humane systems have yet to become customary and natural, not mere novelties, done for limited periods only, to gain political mileage. No country can claim to be Utopia, but valuable lessons can be learnt from other societies and communities where personal safety, and humanity towards people with disabilities and other more vulnerable communities is not a ‘one-off’ but a way of life.