Not blind to their special needs

LAST year, it was a celebration on foot. This year, our visually-impaired friends used a faster way to get around, by boarding the bus and ferry in their celebration of White Cane Day.

Over 100 visually-impaired individuals accompanied by 100 volunteers gathered at St Nicholas Home in Penang yesterday to start off this year’s celebration with a road trip to help raise awareness on the blind community and their needs.

Participants boarding a Rapid Penang bus fitted with a makeshift ramp to go on a journey to Butterworth.

They boarded a Rapid Penang bus to the ferry terminal in Weld Quay where they took the ferry to Butterworth to go to the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway station for a briefing and lunch before heading back to the Home.

The outing, which was jointly organised with Rapid Penang, Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB), KTM and Uni-versiti Sains Malaysia (USM), , was in line with the theme of celebration which was on public transport accessibility.

Rapid Penang chief executive officer Azhar Ahmad said the bus company was committed in making its buses accessible to everyone, not just able-bodied people.

He said Rapid Penang would be getting 200 new European-made buses, with 140 featuring wheelchair ramps, lower floor entry and other related modifications. The buses would arrive in the first quarter of 2009 in various stages.

Azhar (centre) presenting Gan Qi Zhen, 10, with a new white cane. Looking on is Ooi.

“We are looking forward to working with NGOs to see how Rapid Penang can further help to provide services for people with special needs.

“We also urge the state and local authorities to improve public infrastructure to ensure they are friendly to those with special needs,” he said at a press conference at the Home, after flagging off the participants of the event.

The Home’s training and social services manager Wong Yoon Loong, a frequent public transportation user, lauded Rapid Penang and PPSB for their good services to people with special needs.

“At the ferry terminal, people with special needs are given a special waiting area and when the ferry arrives, they get to board first.

“Rapid Penang staff at its counter at the terminal are very helpful too. We just have to tell them where we want to go and they will alert us and help us on the bus when it arrives. Then the drivers will alert us when we reach our destinations,” he said.

Participants, aided by volunteers, all set to go on a road trip to mark the annual celebration.

St Nicholas Home executive director Ooi Chee Khoon said he was thankful that Rapid Penang was taking the initiative to understand the needs of people with special needs.

“What we need next is infrastructure such as roads and facilities friendly to people with special needs. For example, we should have a standard height for all road curbs.

“The local authorities must take stricter action against errant motorists who park their vehicles wherever they like and create obstacles that can endanger other people,” he said.

Ooi also said the public should be better educated about their peers with visual disabilities so they would know how to react when they en-countered them on the streets.

The internationally celebrated White Cane Day falls annually on Oct 15. The celebration recognises the blind people’s movement from dependency to full participation in society.

The white cane stands as a symbol of blindness that also affirms the blind people’s right to exercise their rights and responsibilities just like everyone else.

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