SEPTEMBER 7 — I am on a train to the airport as I write this, on my way to take my first flight in two years.

“Your life is a sitcom,” my friend once said to me and well, it sure seemed that way as I confidently alighted from my Grab at KL Sentral for my KLIA Express ride only to find the counter closed and the tills out of order.

Fortunately I was saved by the appearance of another passenger who explained to me that now there were no separate services — all trains used the same route as the KLIA Transit line.

Though it was mentioned on the website that the services were now “combined”, the announcement was not properly fleshed out.

To take a train to the airport you need to use the KLIA Transit entrance instead of the KLIA Express but there was no signage to demonstrate that.

I must have stood there looking rather dumbfounded in front of the huge sign that announced “to the airport” with a huge arrow pointing... at out of service tills.

Was that the end of it? Nope.

I missed the last train of the day because I was used to the doors remaining open for KLIA Express trains.

On the KLIA Transit, you instead need to push the button for the door to allow you entrance.

No matter, as I had planned to take the first train of the next day, at 0.02 am that arrived minutes later and this time a passenger helpfully told me I needed to press a button for entry.

The thing was I was lucky. There were people near me who noticed my dumbfoundedness and helped me realise what I needed to do. Imagine if I was deaf or blind.

People board the KLIA Express in Kuala Lumpur March 13, 2018. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali
People board the KLIA Express in Kuala Lumpur March 13, 2018. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

An assumption that Malaysians have about the disabled is that they are unable to live independent lives without someone helping them around.

The thing is, we can accommodate the disabled in many ways including such simple steps as a working lift or escalator.

I think about this as I ponder last Friday when on a whim I took the train to KLCC to pick up a book that a friend wanted.

She had seen me posting about Lam Ching Fu’s My Journey by Bus that told the story of his adventure as he tried taking the bus to various destinations and found a lot to like.

It was a good thing I had decided to visit KLCC and Kinokuniya that night because it was the last night the escalator that connected the station to KLCC was “open.”

The escalator had long stopped working and had become something of a joke on social media as there was no alternative besides the wheelchair-unfriendly stairs.

On Saturday the escalator had been boarded up leaving just those stairs and that meant if you were in a wheelchair there was no way to take the train and alight at KLCC.

I had probably avoided the crowd on those stairs as KLCC is, like most of the city’s bigger malls, usually busy on the weekend.

Yes, KLCC is a high-end mall but it is also a popular haunt for families and other people who liked being able to just hop onto a train and access its cinema, park and relatively affordable eats at the food court.

Taking a Grab just isn’t practical especially on the weekends with fares being as high as they are now.

It isn’t just KLCC but most transit stations in Klang Valley that have infrastructure that is failing. Many have non-working lifts and escalators, leaving little recourse for the disabled or elderly.

Oh, a little update on Touch ‘n Go (TNG). Apparently NFC cards are still hard to get but now it seems you can’t even buy ordinary TNG cards as they are no longer on sale in most places, with Watsons now no longer offering TFG support with its membership cards like they used to.

I am able-bodied and yet am constantly irritated by how there seems to be little effort to make public transport a seamless and accessible experience.

What if I were to become temporarily or even permanently disabled? Must I resign myself to losing much of my independence or quality of life?

It is not too late to rethink the way we move around, to consider that stairs are not the best solution for all people, especially the disabled and elderly.

Take, for instance, overhead bridges that are nigh on impossible for those in a wheelchair or similar physical impediments.

We will all grow old, some day. With this pandemic, and the possibility of Long Covid becoming a bane in our lives, we cannot keep imagining or planning for a future that is inclusive only for the healthy and abled.

Are the disabled only worthy of our regard when they win us medals in sports competitions? Will we only take notice when they are the subject of poverty born disguised as a heartwarming story?

Let us believe in a Malaysia that is inclusive and accessible, a Malaysia that we can and should make happen now.

If all else fails, I propose we take away Cabinet members’ cars and personal drivers, and make them get around in a wheelchair and public transport. For a week because I am not a total monster.

As I’ve learned in this country, empathy is not something that comes naturally and sometimes the best way is the most literal way when those who should be listening decide to be figuratively deaf and blind.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.