Palembang Not Accessible for SEA Games Visitors
Palembang is not a friendly city for disabled inhabitants or visitors because parents, the elderly and those disabled simply cannot access public spaces.
The poor accessibility of public and commercial areas within the city is now a pressing issue in the lead up to the 2011 SEA Games, but it has been a relevant issue long before that. In Palembang, people with difficulty getting around are excluded from accessing public spaces, as social planning and construction has not acknowledged their presence. In many countries, such as Australia, the design and construction of a public or commercial building must by law provision ramps, elevators, disabled toilets, and disabled parking. The building must be structurally accessible to the less able bodied and to parents with prams. Yet in Palembang little care and concern is shown toward the disabled, elderly, and parents of young children in the design of the city and its buildings. This is a major contradiction for a city that is using large banners and billboards like Orwellian public injunctions to insist that it is ready to host the SEA Games.
Where are the ramps? Where are the working elevators? Where is the disabled parking? Where are the footpaths along the roads? Where are the parent’s change rooms in shopping centres? Why are there obstacles like holes and building materials left everywhere?
Palembang is preparing to host the 2011 SEA Games, but its level of hospitality will also be contingent upon its ability to provide for the needs of disabled visitors. The implementation of accessible public facilities in the form of parks, playgrounds stroller friendly ramps/ elevators, and parent’s rooms is a necessary feature of a civil society and particularly one that endeavours to invite interest from tourists. The SEA Games is a multi nation event that attracts large numbers of people and a diversity of visitors. Indeed, among the eleven nations participating, are 6000 athletes, let alone visitors from in and outside those nations participating. Among the many able bodied visitors, some of these visitors will be older, disabled or have infants. They will need to enter sporting grounds, shopping centres, hotels, restaurants. They will need to use the toilet.
Palembang is difficult and frustrating for a mother with an infant, or an elderly person, or someone with limited physical movement, but to a disabled person it is isolating, undignified and discriminatory. A person who needs a wheelchair is cruelly discriminated against in Palembang as they are not adequately accommodated in any capacity that engenders their dignity and independence. In fact they are, by the very nature of city and commercial planning, excluded, factored out of the picture. A disabled person is better advised to stay at home rather than suffer the embarrassment and indignity of clumsily navigating public places in Palembang, the many potholes, gutters, stairs and narrow pathways that block their movement. Wheelchair bound persons are conspicuously rare in Palembang, but sadly there are many amputees without prosthetics or livelihoods, hopping through the traffic to beg, rendered invisible by the stigma of disability and unable to navigate well enough to gain employment anywhere else.
The only thing it seems Palembang doesn’t discriminate against is dividing the disabled into those with status and those without. It doesn’t matter if a person is dirt poor or well off; special needs are all marginalised as minority requirements and are not catered for by any social design. Palembang Indah Mall for example, can only be accessed on the first two floors by strollers or wheelchairs, and, disgracefully, someone in a wheelchair or with a baby cannot use the toilet or change a nappy. The parking is an accessibility disaster with only the underground parking suitable for those wanting to do grocery shopping and transfer their goods into their vehicles. Palembang Square fares no better for parking, and their toilets are also inaccessible to parents, the elderly or disabled. The airport is another example of a lack of proper planning and ignorance toward special needs. Any mother with an infant and a stroller will find the Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin airport badly designed and inhospitable to hygienically nursing or changing a baby. For example, the ‘disabled’ toilet is dysfunctional. The toilet does not flush; there is no baby change table, no toilet paper, no soap and no bin. Cockroaches scurry over the floor.
It is time to consider how the city could better accommodate people and become more people friendly. Palembang needs to upgrade its vision of civil society and introduce accessible design or risk causing further indignity to other disabled people. It is of major importance to be conscious of implementing architecture that does not discriminate against less able bodied people and that acknowledges the differing needs of visitors and residents. The welfare of all members in society rests upon the respect accorded to accommodating minority and majority needs, and this will extend to Palembang’s viability as both a destination worth visiting and an accessible place to live. A city not designed for its inhabitants is a city that does not invite interest from visitors.