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Tours for people with disabilities in Jakarta put accessibility infrastructure to the test

Tours for people with disabilities in Jakarta put accessibility infrastructure to the test

Jakarta Barrier Free Tour participants strolling along a pavement next to a river once used as a thoroughfare for Dutch merchant ships during the colonial era. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

JAKARTA: Pavements covering 1.2km along the West Jakarta river where Dutch merchant ships once passed and docked, were supposed to be friendly to people with disabilities like Mr Faisal Rusdi.

Or so the city government claimed when they spent 260 billion rupiah (US$18.5 million) in 2018, renovating centuries-old buildings along Kali Besar street in the historic part of the Indonesian capital, dredging out the mountain of trash and waste from the riverbed and renovating its footpaths.

Mr Rusdi, a wheelchair-bound 45-year-old with cerebral palsy, decided to put the claim to the test recently. This is not his first effort, having tested other facilities in Jakarta since March 2012 when he co-founded the Jakarta Barrier Free Tour (JBFT).

“We were tired of going to the malls. Back then, malls were the only places with adequate access for people with disabilities,” he recounted to CNA.

At that time, Mr Rusdi organised a trip to the beach. Everyone could join, from those on wheelchairs, people on crutches, the visually impaired to able-bodied people.

The participants with disabilities could ask for assistance from their able-bodied peers. But there is one condition: everyone has to use public transportation.

READ: Jakarta's pedestrians jostle for space, navigate unsafe pavements

Nearly every month since, Mr Rusdi’s JBFT has organised trips to museums, parks and other recreational facilities using public buses and trains.

Participants of the tours were also among the first people to try Indonesia’s first mass rapid transit, which began operations this year.

The tours provide a chance for people with disabilities - who would otherwise be immobilised by Jakarta’s woeful pavements, lack of infrastructure and inaccessible transportation system, to come out of their shells and meet other people.

They also serve as a test on how serious the government, transportation companies and recreational sites have been in providing access to people with disabilities.

For the able-bodied people joining the tours, it allows them to better appreciate everyday challenges faced by those with disabilities.

Mr Faisal Rusdi, 45, posing inside the Maritime Museum in Jakarta. Mr Rusdi, co-founded the Jakarta Barrier Free Tour in 2012 with three other people with disabilities. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“Many people with disabilities have given up on their government and their city. Because there is no access for them, they couldn’t travel to work or school. Many dropped out of school and they became marginalised,” Mr Rusdi said.

After each tour, the group would write to the government, transportation companies and building management with their inputs and feedback. 

It has also provided inputs to religious organisations and universities on how to make mosques, churches and campuses more accessible.

Government officials, academics and architects have also been invited to the tours so that they can see for themselves.


On Oct 27, CNA participated in a JBFT-organised tour. Four people with disabilities and eight able-bodied participants were present.

Three in the group were on wheelchairs, including Mr Rusdi, whose deformed arms meant that he had to hire an assistant to push him around. The fourth was Ms Aisyah Cahyu Cintya, who despite suffering from cerebral palsy could walk, albeit slowly. She occasionally required assistance.

READ: Cafe run by deaf people in Indonesia strives to overcome discrimination, one cup at a time

The tour participants were supposed to meet at a bus stop in Central Jakarta at 8.30am. But Ms Echi Pramitasari, who is paralysed from the waist down due to a motorcycle accident ten years ago, was an hour late.

Jakarta Barrier Free Tour participant Ms Echi Pramitasari, 27 at the Maritime Museum in Jakarta. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“I couldn’t find a bus stop which was connected to an elevator. I pushed my wheelchair from one bus stop to the next. When I did find one, the elevator was not operating,” the 27-year-old college student told CNA.

Ms Pramitasari had to wait for someone to push her up and down steep ramps to get to her bus stop.

With the last participant at the rendezvous point, Mr Rusdi outlined the route for the day.

“We’re going to take the bus and stop at Kali Besar bus stop. From there, we’re going to try the supposedly disabled-friendly pavements and make our way to the Maritime Museum and see whether the museum provides access for the disabled,” he briefed the participants.

“For the able-bodied participants, please find the disabled people to accompany and assist them if necessary.”

Mr Faisal Rusdi briefing Jakarta Barrier Free Tour participants about the route and plan for the Oct 27 tour. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

It didn't take long before the participants with disabilities required assistance. The gap between the bus stop’s platform and the bus was too wide for the wheelchair-bound to roll through on their own. 

Two people had to help Mr Rusdi and the others to board the bus.

Once onboard, the driver appeared to neglect the fact that he was carrying three wheelchair-bound passengers.

Mr Rusdi, Ms Pramitasari and Mr Rodhi Mahfur had to hold on to the bus’s grab bars and handrails tightly as the driver navigated the roads, causing the three wheelchairs to rock and sway.

The bus also lacked a dedicated spot for those on wheelchairs and the three had to station themselves by the door.

Ms Echi Pramitasari held on to the bar tightly because the bus was rocking and swaying wildly. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

Upon arriving at Kali Besar bus stop, the driver had to gesture to those manning the bus shelter to help the three disembark.

To get to street level, the three had to go down a steep concrete ramp that suddenly veered into a 90 degree left turn near the bottom.

An intrepid Mr Mahfur decided to have a go at the ramp unassisted, travelling down at break-neck speed before skilfully negotiating the sharp turn with a flick of his wheel.

Ms Pramitasari, who forgot to bring her gloves, wounded her hands while trying to slow down at the bottom of the ramp. With her hands injured, pushing her wheelchair became an agony.

Mr Mahfur offered to tow her using a rope he carried in his backpack, attaching the rope to the underside of his wheelchair.


After a short 100m stroll, the participants came across another obstacle, a busy intersection devoid of traffic lights and zebra crossings.

Some vehicles stopped at the sight of the wheelchaired participants, but others refused to yield.

Up ahead, the pavements were completely blocked by half a dozen minivans which used the footpaths as their parking spot, despite the law banning such practice.

The minivans’ presence forced the tour participants to use the busy street, praying that the incoming traffic would not hit them.

Jakarta Barrier Free Tour participants had to navigate the street because the pavements were blocked by parked minivans. Mr Rodhi Mahfur towed his friend Ms Echi Pramitasari who scraped her hand while descending a steep ramp. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

The 700m trip to the museum was supposed to take able-bodied people seven minutes.

But for the tour participants, the trip lasted more than half an hour with their time wasted negotiating uneven surfaces, shoddily constructed pavements, absence of ramps and unyielding vehicles.

“It’s dangerous even for able-bodied people,” Mr Rusdi commented. “Imagine what it is like for people with disabilities, the elderly who couldn’t walk very fast, pregnant women or families with baby strollers.”

The museum, once a heavily fortified storage facility used by the Dutch Colonial Ruler, fared no better.

Just to get to the front gate, the participants with disabilities had to be hoisted down the stairs.

Museum officials argued they could not build a ramp or an elevator for them to get to the exhibition rooms on the second floor.

“The building has a heritage site status so we cannot make any changes to its architecture,” Jakarta Tourism and Culture Agency chief Edy Junaedi told CNA before he resigned from his post on Nov 1.

Jakarta Barrier Free Tour participants listening to a tour guide at the Maritime Museum in Jakarta. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

Mr Rusdi however argued that the agency, which manages all heritage sites in the city, could provide mobile ramps for people with disabilities.


Data from the Ministry of Public Works showed that Jakarta only has 500km of pavements, compared to 7,000km of roads.

Jakartans have long complained of how the pavements are mostly shoddily built and poorly maintained. With no one keeping an eye on the pavements, there is no stopping the encroachment of vendors and motorcyclists.

READ: Jakarta governor's plan to legalise street vendors divides the city

Chief of the Jakarta public works agency, Hari Nugroho told local media on Nov 2, that the city has been trying to upgrade and refurbish its pavements to make them friendlier to the average pedestrians and people with disabilities.

“This year we have earmarked 275 billion rupiah to revitalise 14 kilometres of pavements. The projects should hopefully be done by the end of the year,” Mr Nugroho told reporters.

“For 2020, we are proposing a budget of 1.1 trillion. A bit high. That’s because the total length (of pavements up for renovation) in 2020 is close to 47 kilometres. Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan has promised to make accessibility for people with disabilities one of his priorities.”

Participants of the Jakarta Barrier Free Tour strolling along the historic part of the Indonesian capital to test government claims that the area is now disabled friendly. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

According to the Health Ministry there are 3 million Indonesians with physical disabilities and 3.4 million visually impaired people. In Jakarta, 16,000 people have severe visual impairment and 15,000 have severe physical disabilities.

Mr Mahfur, who is paralysed from the waist down, said while the city centre has adequate facilities for those on wheelchairs, the rest of the city is a different story.

“This affects where we can live, where we can travel, where we can work, go to school and socialise,” he told CNA.

“I think the city is improving. There are more and more buildings that are beginning to think about access for people with disabilities. The same goes for public transportation. But the city still has a lot of catching up to do.”

Visual artist Rodhi Mahfur, 29, is a regular participant of the Jakarta Barrier Free Tour. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

Mr Rusdi agreed that the city has improved.

“The condition today is much better than when we started JBFT in 2012, especially after Jakarta became the host of the Asian Paragames (in 2018). But as we can see, there is much room for improvement, even in areas and facilities that the government claimed are disabled friendly,” he said.

“This is why we are having this tour. To keep reminding the government that they need to stop neglecting us and start getting us involved in the building of the city’s infrastructure.”

Source: CNA/ni(aw)


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