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The disabled are publicly visible and look happy and independent in New Zealand

Erin writes: I take the bus when I need to get into the city (as parking is expensive) but I have come to enjoy the stories that unfold each time I take the bus. It’s like switching on your tv set.

I like taking the bus here in Christchurch, New Zealand – the bus-driver is always friendly and the passengers polite. The driver will always greet us, the passengers, “Good morning/afternoon etc” and you find people shouting “Thank you” from the back of the bus (to ensure that the driver hears it) before alighting at their destination. Honestly we don’t get to see much of this in Malaysia.

NZ is very disabled-friendly – I get to see people in wheelchairs all the time, in the city centre, at KFC, at malls, New Brighton Beach and most striking of all, on public buses. I especially like the way the driver goes out of his/her way to help passengers in wheelchairs. It is not so much that this is part of his/her job but I think what matters here is the sincerity in the action: that smile on his/her face and the easygoing, cheerful manner with which the driver gets out of his/her seat to put out the wheelchair-access platform and then close it back – all without making the disabled person feels bad or burdened!

In Malaysia, we hardly get to see any disabled people around. Not only is there an absence of disabled-friendly public transport but I think many feel embarrassed to be seen – after all, my guess is they have never been made to feel accepted, either by family or society. It is still such a taboo thing in our Asian society – minus the occasional lucky ones that get wheeled around in malls by their loving family or friends. Mind you, this is rare.

My Korean course mate is doing his research on residential special schools in NZ and lamenting the fact that these are not also available in South Korea. I told him about my observation of disabled people in NZ: that they are a very happy and independent lot because the rhetoric of the government on disability-friendly services IS translated into action plans.

Again, for me, taking the bus every week is good – it reminds me how blessed I am and that all around us, there are still people that care. Altruism is not dead.

Your comments most welcome

See stories of bus driver courtesy and kindness, in the Metro Bus Driver of the Months section of the Christchurch Metro archive – notably Andrew Palenski, named as a Metro Driver of the Month “after he got off the bus to assist a disabled passenger with speech problems and was in an electric wheelchair.

“The driver was so patient with the passenger ensuring he was securely positioned (on the bus) and ensuring he knew where the passenger wanted to get off,” said a fellow passenger on the Airport to Sumner bus.

“When we reached the bus exchange he then helped the disabled person off the bus.

“I know that this is part of his job but it was such a pleasure to see him carry out his duties with such a caring and pleasant manner. It made my day!!!!”

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