Tag Archives: accessible hotel

Washington DC: tech@lead museum accessibility and access in the city!

street with zebra crossing

Crossing the street on the National Mall in Washington DC

I was lucky enough to be invited (as from Connect Culture)  to Tech@Lead, ‘a pilot event that will bring together diverse experts and practitioners from a variety of fields, including the arts, education, design, exhibition, media, electronic and information technology, online experiences and mobile and portable device development and manufacture – all to advance the development and application of innovative technologies that support the inclusion of people with disabilities in the cultural life of our world.’ It was held at the Kennedy Center in collaboration with the Carl and Ruth Shapiro National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH and the Smithsonian Institution.

The conference was amazing and energising in having so many leading people in the fields of design, art, technology, museums, and gaming who created a focused conversation at how we can work together to make art of all forms accessible to the disabled community. People like Sina Bahram whom I found effervesent in his enthusiam for technological solutions, Nancy Proctor an inspiration from the Smithsonian and Museums and the Web, Halsey Burgund who excited me with his audio art and many others. I tried Google Glass and ByteLight and thought I saw a glimpse into the future.

Sina Bahram and neal Stimler demonstrating Google Glass

Sina Bahram and Neal Stimler demonstrating Google Glass

Thanks to Nancy I was also invited to the Smithsonian event the next day. As the Americans say – it was awesome! I was able to talk about the paper we contributed in the July 2013 special issue on accessibility of Curator Journal. These discussions gave me new ideas and inspiration for the Moving On Accessible Transport event we ‘re holding in November at the Coventry Transport Museum. It’s turning to be an international event because Scott Rains   (world traveller and universal design evangelist) will be able to join us and Christiane Link who will be speaking about German transport.

The tech@lead conference was only for the day but I stayed for longer than that to give myself a chance to get over the jet lag which I knew would hit me from previous experience. But here, I would like to talk a bit about the access in Washington DC – to give an idea to others who would like to visit or who will be visiting the city.

First of all, I stayed at 2 different hotels – both at Foggy Bottom, the George Washington University Inn and the Melrose. The GWU Inn is a boutique hotel, I loved the townhouses in this neighbourhood.  The accessible entrance is at the back and the room is comfortable (with 2 double beds!) and it even has its own coffee maker, microwave and fridge. The bathroom was spacious however, the toilet is very low and it is a bath and not a roll in shower. They do provide a bathseat which I found sturdy and I didnt have any problems transferring. (Would be much better with a helper). If I had any complaints it would be that each light and lamp need to be individually switched off, there was no central switch – which can be problematic if you cannot quite reach the appliances in question. I found the staff attentive and helpful (especially a woman named Vanessa).  It was also useful that they had a nice cosy restaurant on the premises.

I had to switch hotels because there were no accessible room available for me after the weekend. The Melrose was about 5 minutes away. Its a much bigger hotel and to get to the lifts, there was a platform lift . However obliging the staff were, there were quite a few times I had to wait for them to clear the trolley out to work it for me. I really like the shower room though. It was cosy and felt ‘safe’. However, I think the bathroom floor had a slippery surface.

If I were to complain it was that staff were less attentive – an engineer which was supposed to come did not turn up – my television did not work properly. (and there was only children’s HBO anyway so maybe it was not such a great loss). However lights flashed when the doorbell rang – so I would have been alerted if I was deaf. There was no microwave. I found both Trader Joe and Wholefood Supermarket close by – so a microwave would have been handy.

Foggy Bottom Metro station

Foggy Bottom Metro station

(to be continued)

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Malaysia: Preparation before the trip

I was born and bred in Malaysia so I do know the terrain. In my previous trips, I had gone before with my family (ex and kids) but had not considered the need for an electric wheelchair before.

However nowadays, my upper body strength is much reduced as has my mobility so this trip needed some careful planning.

In the next few blog entries, I plan to write about some of the preparation/considerations/research needed before the trip if a disabled /reduced mobility traveller wishes to go to Malaysia.

First of all, why visit Malaysia?

The people are warm and friendly, the equatorial landscape is very green and luxurious . The mixture of all the different cultures cheek by jowl makes Malaysia a compelling experience. The food from the exchange of cultures surpasses any to be found anywhere else on earth. And it has all the amenities of modern life without the being sanitised as its neighbour, Singapore.

There are many reasons why one should visit Malaysia but until it improves its access for disabled visitors, visiting the country remains a challenge. For those who want to rise to the challenge, here are a few considerations-

Accommodation

Most people start with Kuala Lumpur – the capital. This is where your plane lands at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport). KLIA is a great airport – I ve always found it to be efficient and the staff to be accommodating and helpful. Getting out of the airport is another matter – this I will write about under transport.

I chose to make Kuala Lumpur or the connecting suburb, Petaling Jaya (PJ) as my base. Most of my friends and family live there and there are many hotels which are most likely to have wheelchair accessible rooms to choose from.

Part of Kuala Lumpur skyline

Part of Kuala Lumpur skyline

My own decision to go to PJ is also based on the fact that I did not want to be in downtown congested KL. But for those who want to be close to tourist spots, there are the 4**** hotels around Bukit Bintang (KL shopping and entertainment district ) – these hotels will have at least one wheelchair accessible room. I was reliably told that to obtain the 4 **** rating, the hotel would had to have at least one wheelchair accessible room. I must admit that I really like the look of eco friendly, courtyard boutique Peranakan themed Anggun Kuala Lumpur. It said it had “disabled- and senior citizen-friendly rooms” on its website. That might be so but the surrounding city scape is not so wheelchair friendly. If I was a tourist and my intentions are to sample the high life of KL – Bukit Bintang is the place to aim for. But Petaling Jaya is not that far away and taxis are quite plentiful.

So, first question in deciding where to stay is : the main purpose of your visit and what are your resources?

Unless someone informs me to the contrary, I would say that there is very little budget type  accommodation that is cheap and accessible such as hostels etc and the like in Malaysia.

I needed a good location where friends and relatives can get to me easily. The whole area can be a motorist nightmare with traffic jams all the time especially during a downpour (which can happen every afternoon). I needed an accessible hotel attached to a mall with easily reached restaurants and shops. I did not fancy humping up and down pavements on my own.  I asked friends and relatives to do some research for me. I should mention that Mary Chen (Editor of “Challenges Magazine“) and Peter Tan gave me some suggestions. Peter kindly checked out the accessible room at the Boulevard Hotel, Mid Valley Megamall for me. So the search narrowed down to Boulevard Hotel and the One World Hotel, 1 Utama Mall. These are both hotels attached conveniently to a big mall.

My needs: a base from which I can independently negotiate my self propelled wheelchair and go to shops, restaurants and other amenities without having to stay within the hotel all the time. This would have to be a place where friends and family can come join me for dinner for the evening without battling over traffic.

It was location which won – apparently Megamall can have incredible traffic snarl ups.

Transport

Transport or lack of accessible transport was a determining factor in the type of wheelchair I took to Malaysia and the support I needed in getting around.

First of all, there is no reliable accessible public transport in Malaysia. And no accessible taxis. One reason why I did not take my electric wheelchair. I understand the light rail transit(LTR)  is accessible but it is only along certain routes but you have to get there first.

KL Traffic

KL Traffic

I was also told about Persatuan Mobiliti which has some vans which are accessible for wheelchair users (with hydraulic lifts and wheelchair restraints) and if there is availability, can be booked for use by non Malaysian residents. I do not think this is very practical for main mode of transport for a visitor. Besides it will definitely be unable to move out of the city.

I find taxis the easiest form of transport but you would still have to avoid the busy areas because taxi drivers will not go where they think they will be stuck in traffic. But to travel out of KL for trips there are taxis which will give you a tour price. We took one of those to Melaka about 2 hours drive from KL south, a city with heritage and a certain colonial past, Portuguese, Dutch and British. It cost us about MYR250/US$75/ GBP £51 each with the taxi to ourselves  for the whole day with lunch included. Taxis can be booked from the hotel from the concierge. We also had a taxi booked to take us to Teluk Intan.

Environmental access

Storm drain

Storm drain

I know some wheelchair users are really good at manoeuvring their wheelchairs but I am not. Negotiating Malaysia buildings and pavements/sidewalks is a real challenge even with a strong and experienced wheelchair pusher. Curb cuts are random and few and far between. Malaysia passed its Uniform Building Bylaws and amended it in 1990 making it compulsory for buildings to provide access to enable disabled persons to get into, out of and within the buildings. The accessibility is still very haphazard. One of the reasons is the prevalence of monsoon drains built to allow water to flow away fast in the flash floods when there is a torrential downpour.

However, in the smaller towns, you can go along on the streets reasonably safely with a wheelchair.

Many buildings have lifts when there are stairs especially in the shopping centres. I did have a surprise in Sungai Wang Plaza when we could’nt use a lift because there was a pole in the middle of the lift, apparently it was to stop shoppers from taking shopping carts into the lifts rendering them unusable for wheelchair users.

Accessible Toilets

Finding accessible toilets is always an issue for wheelchair users. And even the designated accessible toilet may not be so accessible. But in most malls and modern shopping centres, hotels, they do have toilet which are bigger with hand rails. I did find an accessible toilet with handrails next to the sink instead of the toilet which made transfer very hazardous especially when more often or not, toilets are wet in Malaysia.

what design is this?

It might sound very daunting but with the right support, a trip or stopover in Malaysia is well worth the trip. I will be writing about some of the places I did go and visit but I ‘ll leave this for the next blog instalment.

Photos of my trip this time is at Connect Culture flickr account , (Malaysia set /, Kuala Lumpur set, and Melaka set.)