May 27, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

Disabled megalopolitan

Disabled megalopolitan

Jakarta’s disabled are striving for a better deal.

Bunga Sirait

  A space for people with disabilities?
  Bunga Sirait

Last December, amid all the publicity surrounding the Bali climate change conference, the International Day of Disabled Persons on 3 December passed almost unnoticed in Indonesia. Indonesia's disabled are used to being forgotten, even in Jakarta, where there have long been promises to improve access for people with disabilities. But crumbling footpaths dotted with holes, buses that barely slow down to drop off their passengers and a host of other challenges make navigating the city difficult for the able-bodied, let alone for the disabled.

Good intentions

Back in 2000, former president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) announced the start of a National Public Accessibility Movement, a government-backed drive to provide more access for people with disabilities. At the time, Gus Dur had personal experience of the difficulties faced by Jakarta’s disabled. He himself suffered impaired vision, while his wife, Sinta Nuriyah, had for some years been confined to a wheelchair following a serious traffic accident.

As a pilot project, Gambir train station was equipped with 21 standard facilities for disabled people. Ramps were installed, along with talking elevators, a ‘special help bell’, train schedules in Braille and lowered phone booths (for the wheelchair-bound). Toilets and parking spaces were reserved for people with disabilities.

Eight years on, and this is what you’ll find at Gambir: the elevators don’t even look like they’re working, let alone talking. Same thing with the dusty ‘special help bell’ hung on one of the entrance gates. An officer standing nearby points to a dark booth with the big sign ‘Customer Service’ written on it. ‘There,’ he says. ‘When this button is pushed, someone from the office is supposed to come and help. But I don’t think they’ve been doing that, not for a while.’ And if you’re looking for the schedules in Braille and the phones, good luck!

‘I’m not saying things are better now, but we have hopes. The new governor has shown some commitment to providing better service for us,’ says Ariani Abdul Mun’im, Chief of HWPCI, the Indonesian Disabled Women’s Association, referring to Jakarta governor Fauzi Bowo who campaigned with the slogan ‘a city for all’ and whose 100 day-program includes improvement of facilities for the disabled.

During one workshop attended by disabled people’s organisations and government officials last October, Fauzi Bowo stated that he would not cut the ribbons on new buildings unless they were accessible for disabled people.

‘We’re happy that the governor has paid us some attention. Let’s see how the implementation goes. Let’s hope it’s not the same old thing – political will, but no political action,’ Ariani says.

Some changes, but much more is needed

According to ‘Jakarta Akses’, an accessibility survey conducted by HWPCI, the Bina Paraplegia Foundation, Trisakti University’s Civil Planning and Engineering Faculty, and the Jakarta branch of the Indonesian Architects Association in 2001 and 2003, Jakarta has only 3 per cent accessibility for people with disabilities. ‘In other words,’ says Ariani, ‘there are almost no buildings that provide accessibility for the disabled as required by the existing by-laws. There have been some changes since the survey was conducted, but not significant ones.’

‘They always say they want Jakarta to be an international city. But what kind of an international city would it be if it’s not accessible to people with disabilities?’

‘We have four by-laws that state everything clearly, two national laws, one regional government law, and a ministerial decree. We didn’t make them. They [the government] did, but look what’s happening,’ she laments. ‘There are also international conventions that set standards on accessibility for disabled persons. So the government had better start doing something about this, or else the city will be an embarrassment in the eyes of the world. They always say they want Jakarta to be a metropolitan, an international city. But what kind of an international city would it be if it’s not accessible to people with disabilities?’

Overall, according to the 2003 Jakarta Akses Survey, the most disabled-friendly place in Jakarta is Kelapa Gading Mall. ‘Everything is accessible, from the parking spaces to the building itself. It has parking spaces reserved for the disabled, the ramp is good, lift doors and entrance doors are of standard width, public phones are placed low enough, there are wheelchairs you can borrow, and the toilets meet accessibility standards, although they’re often locked.’ Here, at least, is one example of the kinds of changes Ariani and others are calling for.

Don't discuss us without us

   Ariani, the head of Indonesia’s association of women with disabilities.
   Bunga Sirait

Even though Ariani admits there are more and more buildings whose owners are trying to provide facilities for the disabled, their efforts often come to nothing because of the way their intentions are implemented. ‘That happens because they don’t involve us in the process. It’s the national and international consensus that people with disabilities should be involved in the planning and evaluation of programs intended for them,’ Ariani says.

A standard ramp, for example, should have a ratio of 1:12, meaning a ramp with a height of 1 meter has to be 12 meters long, so it will have the appropriate incline. ‘What we often find is they’re 1:8 or worse 1:6 … so you can just slide your way down!’ she says. ‘Then they build toilet cubicles with the standard width (90-100 cm) that allow entry for people in wheelchairs, but the toilet itself is perched on a pedestal, or the door opens inward. And once I was in this talking lift, which I thought was great until I found out it only said ‘Sorry to keep you waiting’ if the door stays open too long instead of telling you what floor you’re at. What a waste. It’s all useless.’

Ariani, who has low vision, hopes the government will also improve facilities for the visually and audio-impaired. More written or properly illuminated signs in public facilities would be a great help for each of these groups. A good example of the need for improvement is the dim lighting that signals the times for the five daily prayers in the Istiqlal Mosque. For the blind, hearing and touch are the key senses. Guiding blocks (yellow blocks with special patterns fixed on pavements to indicate intersections or transitions (for example, from street to building)) are also a helpful tool. ‘In Kuala Lumpur they have them on monorail stations, so a blind person can get in and out of the monorail entirely by herself,’ she explains. 

There is no exact data on how many people are disabled in Indonesia. According to a World Health Organisation estimate, disabled people make up 10 per cent of the population.

Education and attitudes

Apart from the need for architectural improvements, Ariani, who is an anthropology graduate from Gajah Mada University, stresses the importance of public education. ‘People need to be informed that accessibility is basic human right for people with a disability. Many people say, “Why bother providing all these disabled-accessible facilities when they never come here anyway. Who’s going to use them?” But this a rotten argument and shame on anyone who thinks that way. It’s stated clearly in our constitution, and it is our right as citizens to demand and get accessibility. We have  fire hydrants in every building, and we don’t use them every day, do we? It’s the same with provision of facilities for the disabled.’  

Recalling the days when she used public transportation to go out, Ariani says ‘It’s difficult to take, the way people treat you. But you get used to it, in time. I’m used to what public transport workers say, I don’t care anymore. They scream at me, “Can’t you see?”, “Use your eyes!” They don’t know some people with low vision go out of the house without carrying a white stick. And do I have to make an announcement that I can’t really see every time I get on a minibus? Those drivers should be educated to respect the disabled. They need to understand that they have to serve every customer and that customer is not always a healthy young man.’

‘By urging the government to fix these things, we’re actually helping them to make Jakarta a city that doesn’t discriminate.’ In this way, she says, Jakarta truly will become that ‘city for all’ Fauzi Bowo is always talking about.    ii

Bunga Sirait ( is a freelance writer living in Jakarta.

Inside Indonesia 91: Jan-Mar 2008

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