Monday, October 17, 2011

Make it safe for the blind to move about independently

THE plight of the visually-impaired in Brickfields over the past 12 months is best described by the Malay proverb Sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga, which loosely translated means to be continuously hit by woes, akin to have fallen from a ladder, and be crushed by it.

Late last year, the change in traffic system implemented to accommodate the Little India development brought chaos to road users and the blind.

During that period of massive transformation to organise Brickfields into a visually pleasant cultural enclave, not only did construction debris stand in the way of the blind, missing tact tile pathways also made moving around difficult for them.

Finally, when all the dust had settled, yet another problem came up.

Early this month, the woe that caught the blind off guard was when stalls were set up in Jalan Tun Sambanthan, some straddling the length of tact tile pavements the blind depend on to move around.

Unknown to many, the strip of brownish tiles with linear markings built into the city's pavements (not just in Brickfields) are not laid for their visual aesthetics.

These tiles allow the blind to navigate the maze of the city's streets and if the pavements are not blocked, the visually-impaired can move about quite easily unaided.

When some traders set up their stalls on the tact tile pathways, the routine of getting from one side of Brickfields to the other became an obstacle course for the blind. Some were forced to walk on the road and risked being knocked down.

Why did City Hall give out festive licences to trade in Brickfields without checking if the location of the stalls would be in the way of the blind? And for the traders who were given licence to set up stalls, did anyone not notice that their structures were blocking the tact tact tile pathway for the blind?

It is easy to blame City Hall for its lack of foresight when issuing trading licences. But the heated exchanges between City Hall officers and traders could have been avoided if the traders had taken a proactive role to inform the local authority instead of waiting to see who was at fault here.

City Hall deserved to be rapped but traders who knowingly blocked the tact tile pathways were as morally guilty. Hopefully, City Hall will be wiser on hindsight from this experience.

In areas where the local authority claims to be blind-friendly, it must make an effort to inspect and make sure that the facilities for the blind are not hampered by any obstacle, at all times.

For example, drains near tact tile pavements should be securely covered. Iron grille covers, which are frequently stolen, should be replaced with concrete slabs.

For a person who is visually impaired, an open drain near a tact tile path is just as dangerous as a stall on tact tile paving.

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