“There have been more than a few incidents where I fell down because the bus started moving while I was still boarding,” says Al Asyraf.
Al Asyraf bin Zulkefli understands what it is like to get around town with Cerebral Palsy - he is a former student of the Johor Cerebral Palsy Association (CPJ), which offers workshops, rehabilitation, as well as school and vocational training programmes for individuals with Cerebral Palsy. Today, he serves on the CPJ Board of Directors and continues to provide valuable input on how the transport system can improve to help others with Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities that affect movement and mobility.
Al Asyraf believes that a lack of knowledge on the various types of disabilities is inhibiting persons with disabilities from travelling. “Current efforts group the entire community of persons with disabilities as one. That should not be the case, because what I face as someone with Cerebral Palsy, someone else with Down Syndrome or partial blindness might not experience, and vice versa.”
There is still a low level of understanding and sensitivity to the term ‘persons with disabilities, which can clearly be seen in how facilities and infrastructure cater for them. In Malaysia, disability is divided into seven categories:
There were 453,258 registered persons with disabilities (children and adults) in 2017 (Johor 54,310 and Melaka 27,882), which is 1.45% of the country’s population of 31.11 million (2017).
This group requires support to lead lives as independently as possible. Mobility constraints are a serious impediment to disability-inclusive development, as they exacerbate the personal, economic, and social isolation of persons with disabilities. In transport, this means the system must be seamless, enabling movement from a public bus to a rapid rail transport service within an appropriate time frame and facilitating the use of the same card to travel seamlessly while charging a lower subsidised fare.
Improving Public Transport Accessibility
One initiative implemented in Malaysia is a concession card which provides a 50% discount on selected RapidKL buses, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Light Rail Transit (LRT), Monorail and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) for those registered with the Ministry of Health as being a person with a disability.
Concession Card for Persons with Disabilities in Malaysia
While this is indeed a great initiative to provide access to affordable transport, there are other measures required to ensure that transport is accessible and within the groups’ reach.
“Oftentimes, for the sake of convenience, I depend on services like Grab as there is no structured and reliable bus timetable. Buses are scarce, and if they are not, the bus stops are not conducive for me and my community to embark or disembark”, Al Asyraf explained.
In Iskandar Malaysia, the GFCP aims to improve access to transport and mobility for all through a Smart Integrated Mobility Management System (SIMMS).
Designing a more conducive public transport system would increase accessibility for persons with disabilities and enable them to travel in a hassle-free manner, similar to able-bodied members of society. At its most basic level, public transport should be equipped with ample legroom, ramps and wheelchair space allocation. Further measures, such as tactile and audible signals, access ramps, and wide sidewalks would ensure that the group can move about both safely and securely.
Al Asyraf (second from right), fellow CPJ Board Member, Allan Fernandez (right) and administrative team member, Nooraini (third from right) in discussion with the GFCP Iskandar Malaysia Team
Efforts of Persatuan Pemulihan Orang Kurang Upaya-Baru (PPOKUB) in Melaka
The Rehabilitation Centre for Persons with Disabilities (New) Melaka (PPOKUB) is assisting persons with disabilities through vocational skills and entrepreneurial training to equip them for the workforce. This centre enables those aged 16 and above to hone their soft skills and learn something new through workshops on handicraft, furniture, eco-tourism, reflexology and event management. The centre comes equipped with a dormitory for those who prefer to stay at the facility.
According to its Vice Chairman, Zazale bin Hassan, who works closely with those who attend classes at the centre, many of them face the same issue in accessing public transport. “Connectivity is a big issue especially in Melaka Tengah, Alor Gajah and Jasin, where a majority of persons with disabilities in Melaka are located.” He added that “It is rare to see a bus, especially in the outskirts. It is even difficult for able-bodied people from rural areas to access a bus. What more those who have a disability?”
Many of the wheelchair-using students at the centre face difficulties even when there are public buses around. A common problem is that there are no bus ramps or space provided for wheelchairs when onboard. “Future bus stops should be built at the same level as the bus floor so that it eases access for wheelchair-bound passengers.” Currently, the centre provides its own transport for students who live at the dormitory.
Through the implementation of a Green Transport Implementation Masterplan and Green Bus Network Masterplan, the GFCP hopes to improve bus connectivity in Melaka.
Zazale bin Hassan (in white with back to camera) and other members of PPOKUB speaking to the GFCP Melaka team
The GFCP targets equal access for all
There is a strong need for the transport and mobility systems in Malaysia to adhere to inclusive design standards. Through a Smart Integrated Mobility Management System (SIMMS) in Iskandar Malaysia, as well as a Green Transport Implementation Masterplan and Green Bus Network Masterplan in Melaka, the GFCP recognises the significance of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) representation to ensure that the strategic requirements of the GESI community are incorporated into the planning and implementation of the projects.
The GFCP in Malaysia seeks to set out a future focussing not just on facilities for persons with disabilities through its interventions but aims to provide equal access for all. This ensures that people from all physical, mental, social and economic capabilities can access the same transport system without having to rely on ‘specially-made modes of transport. In obtaining input from GESI communities, including persons with disabilities, the GFCP can provide a data-driven base to inform local authorities, policymakers and urban planners so that a ‘Universal Design’ can be adopted and implemented across the entire public transport system.
The GFCP mandates GESI
The GFCP mandates the provision of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) in all its ongoing projects. Women, children and youth, the elderly, the indigenous, and persons with disabilities are among the marginalised groups identified.
Despite ongoing efforts to enable these groups to lead their lives with minimum barriers and to have access to basic necessities, one major hurdle still persists, namely transport and its associated lack of accessibility.
The GFCP in Malaysia aims to provide a level playing field for these groups to have access to transport, a basic provision under Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It aims not just to be compliant with this provision, but to empower the GESI community and transform the transport and mobility systems to ensure attainable access to transport for all.
The GFCP is working with Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) in Johor, as well as Unit Perancang Ekonomi Negeri (UPEN) and Perbadanan Teknologi Hijau Melaka in Melaka to develop long-term solutions to optimise transport and mobility systems. To ensure that the strategic needs of GESI groups are met, the GFCP has established GESI Consultative Groups (GCG) in Iskandar Malaysia and Melaka as an avenue for GESI communities to provide inputs so that the GFCP can suggest the best approaches for a favourable outcome.
Increasing GESI sensitisation in Malaysia
The GFCP continues to strive towards achieving Gender Equality and Social Inclusion in its Iskandar Malaysia and Melaka projects. Through the GESI Consultative Groups in each city, input from GESI representatives plays a key role in shaping the outcomes of the projects.
Interactive events such as GESI awareness training, webinars and focus group discussions are ongoing and continue to provide an avenue to the GESI community to ensure that their strategic needs are included in the design and implementation of the projects. GESI-sensitive capacity building efforts offer local authorities and transport providers a better understanding of GESI strategic needs so that these needs can be addressed in a well-informed manner.
The GFCP interventions in Malaysia aim to address the importance of affordable, accessible, reliable and efficient public transport for all walks of society by proposing viable measures to enhance the transport system.
“The Smart Integrated Mobility Management System is indeed a good initiative by the GFCP. It would be apt to integrate the entire transport system so that everyone can access information on availability, routes, traffic and such. It would be equally easy for everyone to get to places by public modes of transport. I would like to see it go even bigger and not just stop here. If mobility issues for the community of persons with disabilities can be reduced by even a small fraction, we would have better access to a wider array of job opportunities and a level playing field”, Al Asyraf said.
Zazale added that “Implementation of renewable-energy buses would do Melaka good. It is a long-term plan that would benefit everyone, so long as it is affordable and accessible to everyone, including those from rural areas.”
Through compliance with GESI principles in its projects, empowering members of the GESI community and transforming the existing transport system into one that is inclusive and equitable, the GFCP will pave the way for better transport and mobility and enable Iskandar Malaysia and Melaka to become Future Cities.
External Affairs & Communications Lead, Global Future Cities Programme, Malaysia