Beyond Barriers

Published: Thursday November 28, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday November 28, 2013 MYT 10:00:23 AM

Where there's a wheel, there's a way

The travel and hospitality industry should apply the principles of universal design to their products and services.

IT’S that time of the year again when most of us plan our holidays, trips, breaks and getaways. Whatever you call it, the main purpose of these outings is to unwind and relax, and get away from crazy stuff which stresses us out.

After a year of hard work, what better way to reward ourselves than to take a holiday and chill out.

I used to join the year-end holiday-makers before I was diagnosed with brain tumour 15 years ago.

Following two operations and a turn of events which affected my mobility, I have not had too many chances to travel.

As a brain tumour survivor, there are a lot of issues which I need to take into consideration when travelling. Accessibility is a key concern.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the East Coast with a group of people with various disabilities.

We took the national carrier and was pleased with the way the airport staff handled passengers with disabilities. The transfers to and from the aircraft went smoothly.

However, we were not so lucky with our hotel rooms.

As the hotel did not have any disabled-friendly rooms, we had to make do with whatever we were provided with.

All of us had problems with the toilets.

The shower was inaccessible because it was inside the bathtub, so the staff provided us with plastic chairs and scoops.

The sink was also out of reach for wheelchair users.

If we wanted to take a bath, we had to use the hose next to the toilet bowl. Just imagine taking a bath with freezing cold water early in the morning.

Some of us had a really tough time manoeuvring our wheelchairs inside the restroom. It was not built to accommodate wheelchairs and the poor design and positioning of fittings added to our misery.

Jackie Ng, brain tumour survivor.
Jackie Ng, brain tumour survivor.

A disabled-friendly hotel room should feature standard adaptations with beds, switches and panic alarms placed at suitable heights.

Restrooms should be big enough to accommodate wheelchairs, and all fixtures and fittings, including handrails, must be within easy reach.

Another major concern is whether restaurants and other food and drink joints like bars are accessible.

Imagine you are hungry and you head to a restaurant only to discover that you can’t access it due to a lack of facilities. How would you feel?

When on holiday, we worry if restrooms in restaurants and public places are disabled-friendly and whether we can access the malls.

How I wish the coming Visit Malaysia Year 2014 would be more inclusive, and the travel and hospitality industry would apply principles of universal design to all their products and services.

Universal design involves designing buildings, products and spaces that address the needs of people with disabilities.

Universal design also recognises that there is a wide spectrum of human abilities, and that everyone passes through periods of temporary illness, injury and old age.

By designing for this human diversity, we can create things that are more functional and user-friendly for everyone.

There are seven principles of universal design:

1. Equitable use

The design should be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

2. Flexibility in use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

3. Simple and intuitive use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

4. Perceptible information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of the user’s sensory abilities.

5. Tolerance for error

The design minimises hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

6. Low physical effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.

7. Size and space for approach and use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.

Here are some examples where principles of universal design are applied:

> Smooth, ground level entrance without stairs;

> Surface textures that require low force to traverse on;

> Surface that are stable, firm and slip-resistant;

> Wide interior doors (92cm), hallways and alcoves with 152cm x 152cm turning space at doors and dead-ends

> Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs;

> Light switches with large flat panels rather than small toggle switches;

> Buttons and other controls that can be distinguished by touch;

> Use of meaningful icons with text labels;

> Ramp access to swimming pool;

> Labels on equipment control buttons in large print.

I am aware that Kuala Lumpur is not a very disabled-friendly city as far as accessibility is concerned, with limited accessible hotel rooms available, but I believe “if there is a wheel, there is a way”.

Certain things can still be arranged. Will the industry players be prepared if tourists visit our country with the whole family in tow, including elderly parents, toddlers, and babies in strollers?

And don’t expect people to leave their disabled family members at home.

How wonderful it would be if our travel agents are willing to go the extra mile to arrange accessible transport for our disabled tourists.

It would be better still if the agents could work together with hotels and restaurants to provide accessible accommodation and services to their guests.

It would be very helpful if the travel agents could provide disabled tourists with information on disabled-friendly facilities. For example, where is the nearest disabled-friendly restroom, or the nearest lift.

In the service industry, whoever provides better services wins.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, disability, travelling

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