Bunga Sirait, Contributor The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Ramaditya Adikara, 26, works as a composer for giant video game corporation Nintendo. He does all his work from home, but he goes out a lot and alone for other freelancing jobs. Like many other disabled people who rely on public transportation, Rama, has heart-wrenching stories to tell about being a blind guy cruising the streets of Jakarta.
"I fall from angkot (public minivans) all the time. You would think they would help disabled people. But, even though I use a stick (and it's clear I am disabled), they take no notice of me," Rama said.
Considering the broken sidewalks and pot-hole riddled streets of the city, it is not surprising Rama also said he had tripped countless times.
One time a car actually ran over his stick when he dropped it crossing the street.
"Usually there's someone around to lend a hand, but if it's an empty street, you're on your own," said Rama, who dreams that someday Jakarta will have a guide dog service like the one he used when he lived in Japan for "two wonderful years".
"It's a real dog that goes everywhere with you -- just like a friend. There are certain hand gestures or codes they can understand if we want them to take us to the station, shopping, crossing the street," he said. "The service is provided by the government, free of charge. All you have to do is call and say you need one.
"You should be able to go out alone even if you are blind or confined to a wheelchair. Disabled people need to go to work, to go wherever they want ... It's the government's responsibility to make this city accessible to all," said Ariani Mun'im, the chief of the Indonesian Disabled Women's Association (HWPCI)
Although there are bylaws that regulate accessibility, facilities such as street ramps, rails, audible traffic signals and Braille instructions are extremely limited in Jakarta, moreover in Indonesia.
An accessibility survey in Bandung revealed that only one audible traffic signal was found in the city; and this was possibly the only one in the country.
"So far I would say TransJakarta is the most accessible form of public transportation here. The announcement indicating which stop will be next is quite helpful, and I can tell the officers are trained to handle us, (people with disabilities)," Rama said.
Unlike Rama, Henny Santoso rarely uses public transportation. "I do take buses once in a while. But is was easier back in the days when Jakarta wasn't so crowded," said Henny who is disabled from polio, which she contracted when she was 4.
The champion of the 1995 Paralympic Games in Taiwan for tennis relies on her driver to get around the city.
"I can't imagine going anywhere in Jakarta on one of those buses."
That includes TransJakarta. "It's too much an effort," Henny said.
"People have told me horrible stories about getting on the bus. First, the ramp was too steep and the handrails weren't satisfactory. Even regular people find it hard to get up the ramp, imagine how hard it is for people in wheelchairs," she said.
"The second thing is, you just can't get in. Not every entrance door is wide enough for a wheelchair. That means we need someone to carry us, fold the wheelchair, unfold the wheelchair, and put us back on the seat. Where's the accessibility? We've been told to live independently. Given the circumstances, how can we possibly do that?"
Budi, 29, a former professional swimmer, uses crutches to get around. He remembers his days at art school (IKJ) when he had to take the bus home, but none of the drivers wanted to stop.
"I was lucky I had great friends. If I waited for too long, my friend would stand in the middle of street when the bus was coming so it would stop and I could get in."
Budi believes society has a misperception of disabled people, which breeds discrimination. "People think just because we're disabled, it's difficult for us to find jobs, therefore we don't have money, so we might not be able to pay when we use their service. That's how the chain goes," he said.
"If I wanted to waste my time thinking about how badly people treated us, I'd say we are treated worse than second-class citizens."
Rama echoed what Budi said but expressed hope: "More than the improvement of facilities, what I really hope is that our society can respect and help disabled people, because seeing the condition of our country, it'd be so hard just to depend on the physical facilities.
"Public education is crucial or else the facilities that were made for us will be ineffective."
Henny related her experience in a mall some years ago: "We were looking for a space to park, so we go to where they have this wheelchair sign. It turns out the space is being used by another person who is not disabled, and the parking officer doesn't lift a finger to help. An officer like him is supposed to tell people they have to respect the rules," she said
"Show some sensitivity," Henny added. She remembers the time when she went to see a movie with some friends: "They put us in the very front row. They didn't have any ramps -- hence the front row was our best bet. Nobody ever offered us any assistance on how we could get better seats. So there we go watching the film, heads tilted, with the light streaming onto our faces. "It seems that nobody thinks about how to make things more comfortable for the disabled."