Monday, March 1, 2010

Accessibility And Universal Design: Implications For Public Transport And The Built Environment

Speech By YB Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun
Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community development

on 1 Mac 2010

Ladies and gentleman,
I am delighted to welcome all of you to this conference. I also would like to take this opportunity to greet our foreign speakers a warm welcome to Malaysia – “Selamat Datang.” This is an important conference because it draws attention to one of the most critical issues facing persons with disabilities and we as a developing country have to work very hard to deal with it.

Among the many difficulties encountered by people with disabilities, access to built environment and public transport is the most critical. While developed countries have made considerable progress in improving accessibility by adopting universal design principles, developing countries such as Malaysia is still lagging behind.

The Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 has integrated the critical importance of universal design. This law recognises equal rights of people with disabilities to access and use of public facilities, public transport facilities, amenities, services and buildings open or provided to the public and that both the Government and providers of these facilities must ensure that they conform to universal design. In addition, Malaysia is obliged to promote an inclusive, barrier-free and rights based society for persons with disabilities under the Biwako Millennium Framework and to take appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities will have access to the physical environment and public transport as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Ladies and Gentleman,
In spite of our national and international commitment to ensuring accessibility, we still face difficulties in creating access to public transport and the built environment as a result of lack of good practice standards and awareness. Thus where improvements are made they are not always appropriate for the users. There are very few studies on accessibility for persons with disabilities and therefore, generally little or no data to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate projects. In addition, there are also gaps between institutional structures and policies as well as lack of public awareness which results in public misuse of facilities built for people with disabilities.

In this context, I am very pleased to note that UNDP and the Government of Malaysia have embarked on a project which aims to support the development of a fully accessible public transportation system for all. Based on the findings and recommendations of the access audit, a strategy on improving public transport has been developed and will be presented to the government. Although this project was carried out in Penang, the findings and recommendations are applicable in other states of Malaysia.

The findings are nothing new, however when measured against existing policies and guidelines on accessibility, it does raise serious concern. For example, in Malaysia it is mandatory that all public buildings be made accessible to persons with disabilities. An amendment was made to the Uniform Buildings Bylaws (UBBL) making it compulsory to provide access to enable persons with disabilities to get into, out of and within the buildings.It further added that buildings already built before the commencement of this by-law must be altered to comply with the by-law within 3 years from the date of commencement. It also categorically stated that it must comply with the code of practice on accessibility as laid out in the Malaysian Standards, MS 1184 and MS 1331. However, almost 2 decades later many of our public buildings continue to remain inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

I am also concerned that while we have clearly established standards and guidelines on accessibility, the construction of pavements for instance are often not built according to the standards required . Difficulties encountered in our effort to createaccess are further compounded by the lack of enforcement of illegal parking, illegal businesses and numerous obstructions along the walkways. These issues are highlighted visually at the foyer just outside this ballroom. The photo exhibition illustrates typical problems relating to accessibility which is common in Malaysia.Ladies and gentleman,It is good to know that representatives from the Local Councils from around the country as well as those in the various Ministries and government departments, private sector, universities and civil society including persons with disabilities are here today. It is important that we work together as managing access is everyone’s responsibility. While what I have highlighted are challenges, however, it is important to note and recognise that there are commendable efforts in improving accessibility especially in the Klang Valley.

Ladies and gentleman,
The government is committed to further improve our public transportation system through the Government Transformation Program under the leadership of our Prime Minister. The Government Transformation Programme has amongst its six National Key Result Areas, one specifically addressing the upgrading of urban public transportation system. I am pleased to share that one of the four sub-National Key Result Areas is to anchor our efforts to deliver significant improvements in urban public transport aimed at ensuring the ability of the people to have easy and good access to public transport.’

The Government is committed to the principles of non-discrimination and social inclusion for people. I would like to emphasise that the concept of 1 Malaysia introduced by our honourable Prime Minister does not merely focus on the integration and unity amongst ethnic groupsbut also places importance on the integration of all levels of peoples in the nation, including underprivileged communities such as people with disabilities. No one will be left out from the development of the country; everyone deserves to enjoy a conducive environment without any discrimination!

Accessible public transport policy, within the framework of an overall integrated transport policy is fundamentally important to delivering that commitment. I will be expecting a report from this conference with detailed proposals specifically targeted at improving accessibility and the incorporation of universal design principles to public transport and the built environment. I thank UNDP for your partnership and for collaborating with the Government of Malaysia.

Dengan ini, saya dengan sukacitanya merasmikan Persidangan Kebangsaan “Accessibility And Universal Design: Implications For Public Transport And The Built Environment”. Sekian, terima Kasih.

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