KUALA LUMPUR: She felt a sense of helplessness after just five minutes on the wheelchair. She also felt shy as everybody was looking at her. And when she was blindfolded next to experience what life is like for the visually disabled, she felt giddy after just a little while.
Vision lost, she had to depend on the minds eye, and it was not long before she became attuned to the sounds around her. But the walk along the supposedly disabled-friendly road in Brickfields was another thing altogether.
All I know is that at the end of it all, I really felt like crying, said Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil.
The occasion was a simulation exercise conducted by the ministrys Social Welfare Department to give her an insight into the life of the disabled. Joining her were her parliamentary secretary Chew Mei Fun and City Hall director-general Haji Salleh Yusup.
The exercise took her from the Malaysian Association for the Blind complex in Jalan Tebing off Jalan Tun Sambanthan in Brickfields to KL Sentral and back a journey she traversed using a wheelchair, a white cane and the monorail.
I was supposed to do this a year ago but I guess it took me a year to prepare myself and build up my courage, she said.
But I am so glad I did it.
I believe my perception of the world of the disabled changed a lot after the exercise. It was obvious that many of the facilities required by the disabled are not there. Barrier-free pathways are sometimes blocked and motorcycles are parked where they are not supposed to.
The exercise was carried out on April 9 without the press being present so as not to turn it into a publicity-seeking exercise, although the disabled community knew about it through The Stars Wheel Power columnist Anthony Thanasayan who mentioned it in his article on April 14.
We wanted people who work on the issues in the ministry to understand what it is all about, said Shahrizat.
I certainly felt and understood my core business better after the experience. If I want to advocate for the disabled, I must understand what they are going through.
She spoke about a recent trip to California where the facilities for the disabled and the senior citizens were part and parcel of everyday life.
The disabled-friendly facilities in Brickfields set up by City Hall are, however, compromised by the attitude of members of the public who misuse them.
But Shahrizat is determined to do her part.
As she put it: There are so many things we take for granted. Our lives, our joys, but when you consider what these people have to go through daily, it is really inspiring. We may still have a long way to go.