Thursday July 19, 2012
Include the disabled in public events
By ANTHONY THANASAYAN
Organisers of public events should not forget the disabled and elderly.
I HAD a terrific time last weekend. I joined about 300 people and had a blast in a street song festival in Petaling Jaya.
The event started on Saturday at noon and finished at 11pm. It was held at Taman Rusa, the park right in front of the Petaling Jaya City Council’s headquarters (MBPJ).
It was a rather unusual situation for me. For the first time, I found myself simultaneously wearing two official caps.
Although the venue was under my care as councillor for the area, I was also representing my animal-assisted therapy society, Petpositive, as the programme’s head.
We were invited to join more than a dozen non-governmental organisations to set up booths to educate the public who came to the event.
Although Petpositive ended up as the only disabled NGO present, there was another animal-interest group at the event called Malaysia Independent Animal Rescue. These guys literally go out into the streets and back lanes and rescue unwanted dogs and cats and house them with animal lovers. Their rescue missions also include handicapped animals.
Other organisations at the event represented human rights groups for minorities and refugees.
The highlight of the event was the street performances.
We were treated to live shows from some outstanding performers that included several new and upcoming acts.
But the star attraction – for us anyway – made a guest appearance for about 15 minutes at the event.
She is a real beauty and all eyes were fixed on her when she made it to our booth. She was seated firmly on my lap as I proudly wheeled her in on my wheelchair.
I’m talking, of course, about Petpositive’s therapy dog Reba.
I have written before about how this incredible Shetland sheepdog zeroed in on the wound on my paralysed leg even before I suspected a thing.
I rushed to the doctor at once and was told that had I come any later, I would have lost my limb to gangrene!
After the incident, Reba kept me company for the next six months until my leg was fully healed. All that while, she kept spreading positivity all around me that helped me stay focused on healing instead of being depressed.
And spreading positive vibes was exactly what the Sheltie started doing the second she entered our booth.
Reba just drew people in – some even left their respective booths for a moment to pat, hug or kiss her.
Everyone loved her. No one asked what a dog was doing there as her purpose was clear.
Reba just greeted everyone who came up to her. She was not rude. She never complained about how anyone looked or smelt that very hot day. She just didn’t want to disappoint her fans.
After her quick stint, the furry celebrity was whisked away in her waiting car driven by my best pal Andrew who took her straight to my home.
Believe it or not, Reba’s brief presence helped our booth sell some of our secondhand books – the only sale we made that day.
But that wasn’t all that our visitors learnt about disability. We conducted a short impromptu training session on how to handle wheelchairs.
The experience contributed to an informal audit access exercise that pointed out some areas in Taman Rusa itself that need to be friendly to wheelchairs.
As councillor, I will get down to that very soon.
Some of our “students” were quite surprised and alarmed to note how a lack of any training on how to push wheelchairs could create a hazardous situation for both the user and caregiver.
To the few disabled and elderly persons who turned up – including me – we simply had a great time.
Many disabled persons are simply forgotten when such events are held. I guess it’s because some people think we may not be interested.
But we are and are always waiting to be included in such events. And in most cases, that’s all we want.
Ask Reba, she’ll tell you!