Rough Ride for Disabled on Indonesia’s Public Transit
Anita Rachman & Ulma Haryanto
Like most train stations in the capital, Cikini Station in Central Jakarta has no elevators or wheelchair ramps. Nor are there signs in Braille for the blind, or prominently displayed running texts for the deaf.
Getting to the arrival platform means walking up three flights of stairs. For most people, it’s a bit of an exertion. For those with disabilities, it can be exhausting.
“It’s tiring, mentally and physically,” Cucu Saidah, 37, tells the Jakarta Globe. Cucu is confined to a wheelchair because of a crippling muscle atrophy in her legs.
“Jakarta’s train stations are not accessible for the disabled. This is unfair because we also have the right to use public transportation. We also want to hop on the busway, or take a plane or a train, just like everybody else.”
Cucu adds it would be impossible for her to get around places like Cikini Station without help from others. If it had an elevator, she points out, she and other people in wheelchairs could easily get by on their own. Just like anyone else, she says, disabled people also want to be independent and not have to rely on others.
Jaka Ahmad, a member of the Jakarta Transportation Council, agrees that the government has long overlooked disabled people when it comes to public transportation services.
“We feel very much ignored. They treat us like we don’t exist,” he says.
Jaka, the first member of the council who is blind, says he joined to ensure that the disabled had a voice on the council, which advises the city administration on various transportation policies.
He cites the TransJakarta bus network, with its series of ramps leading to each shelter, as a step in the right direction, but says it’s still far from ideal.
“Lots of work still needs to be done to provide accessible transportation services for the disabled,” he says.
He points out that many of the ramps to get to the shelters are too steep, while the gap between the shelter platform and the bus is often too wide for those in wheelchairs to safely cross.
If they do make it inside the bus, there are no special bays or seat belts for them. Many of the buses also do not have running texts to tell passengers with hearing disabilities which shelters are coming up, while the visually impaired have to rely on the audio prompts or announcements by the bus attendant.
Dian Inggrawati, 28, the second runner-up at Miss Deaf World 2011 — an international contest for young women with hearing impairment — tells the Globe that she often uses the busway and has missed her stop on many occasions.
“What we need is a map inside the bus and a warning light on that map that tells us what shelter is coming up next, so that we can get ready to disembark,” she says.
Cucu says the problem of accessibility is not confined to Jakarta. Disabled people in Yogyakarta, Bandung and other big cities also have trouble getting around on public transportation, she says.
Jaka says a major part of the problem is that the government assumes that the disabled constitute a negligible minority, and thus building accessibility infrastructure for them will not be worth the cost.
A Social Affairs Ministry survey in 2010 put the number of disabled people at 2.1 million nationwide, of whom around 51,000 live in Jakarta.
But the World Health Organization’s 2011 report on disability said the prevalence of disability in Southeast Asia was between 1 percent and 7 percent, which in Indonesia would translate to as many as 16 million disabled people.
Jaka says the lack of firm figures fuels a vicious cycle.
“Because the government thinks the number is small, it doesn’t provide the facilities. This discourages disabled people, who end up not using public transportation. As a result, the government thinks its assumption was correct, so it makes no infrastructure improvements,” he says.
“We want to break that cycle.”
However, the Transportation Ministry says it is fully committed to improving accessibility in all sectors. Bambang Ervan, a ministry spokesman, says the government has pushed through various legislation on air and rail transport that calls for greater accessibility for disabled people.
“We also monitor and receive reports on whether each [transportation] institution is applying the laws,” Bambang tells the Globe.
He says train stations more than one story high should have an elevator, but it takes time to build elevators in all stations. He also says that the newer TransJakarta buses do have wheelchair bays, but that poor awareness leads to other passengers hogging these spaces.
For Jaka, though, breaking the cycle will take more than just waiting for the government to enforce its own laws.
He and several friends kicked off a campaign called the “Barrier-Free Movement,” in which they invite disabled people on regular tours using public transportation.
Besides encouraging the disabled to use buses and trains, the movement is also aimed at grabbing the attention of the government and the public.
“We’re trying to tell them that we also want and need to use public transportation,” Jaka says.
The cause has earned the support of another civil society campaign, the Pedestrian Coalition, which seeks to ensure that pedestrians can walk the city’s streets safely and without hindrance.
Anthoni Ladjar from the coalition argues that if the disabled can get the government to provide accessibility facilities for them, “then we’re all going to benefit from these facilities, too.”
“I wore a blindfold during the last Barrier-Free Movement tour, just to understand what it feels like being blind and trying to use public transportation,” he says.
“I can tell you that this city isn’t friendly at all. Government officials should wear blindfolds or use wheelchairs when they survey public transportation, so they can understand what these people need.”