SELF-RESPECT: Not convenient to depend on others, says driver
IT is not an easy task for a disabled person to do things which an able-bodied person might take for granted, which includes driving.
V. Murugeswaran, a disabled driver who drives a modified Toyota Vios, said it took him some time to adapt to driving differently.
He said the learning process was tough, but he eventually familiarised himself with the techniques.
"It was not easy as you need to use one hand to control the brakes and accelerator, and the other hand to control the steering.
"However, things became much better with practice," said the 44-year-old customer care coordinator, who is paralysed from the waist down.
The Batu Pahat-born Murugeswaran had an accident when he was 18 and was paralysed ever since.
He had to modify his car at the cost of RM1,500 before attending driving lessons and sitting for the Road Transport Department (RTD) test.
"This was back in 1996 when I drove a Proton Saga fitted with a hand-controlled gadget that worked the brakes and accelerator."
Murugeswaran said he decided to take up driving despite his disability because he wanted to live life independently.
"I wanted to have a good career and be successful in life like everyone else. At the same time, I wanted to be an example to others with disabilities."
He said that before he started driving on his own, it was a hassle to depend on other people to ferry him around.
"I had to frequently re-schedule appointments according to other people's schedules and it was simply not convenient.
"Now, I enjoy my freedom and treasure my independence."
Murugeswaran, who is also the founder and president of the Damai Disabled Persons Association, said before he got his licence, many treated him badly and categorised him as "useless", but once he could drive independently, they treated him with more respect.
Another disabled driver, who wanted to be known as Ng, from Kepong, said that in the 1980s, only Datsun models could be fitted with the hand-controlled gadget to assist disabled drivers.
"Left with no choice, I bought a Datsun 120Y in 1983 and had it fitted with the device at the only RTD-approved workshop, Tan Chong Motors.
"I bought a Classic Mercedes 280SE in 2000. The gadget from my old car could not fit in it because of the different length of the Mercedes' steering rod.
"I was then introduced to (Mohd) Ayub (Jalil), who designed a new hand-controlled gadget that is retractable for all makes of vehicles. The new device fitted well in the Mercedes."
In 2008, Ng said he bought a Hyundai Sonata and fitted the same gadget from the Mercedes into the Sonata.
"Though the gadget is quite pricey, its reusable features make it worth the money.
"Besides, the independence I gained from driving my own car is incomparable to the hassle of learning to drive and the cost of modifying the vehicles."
Society of Orthopaedically Handicapped Malaysia secretary-general Miskan Kasiman said many disabled persons were not as lucky as those who can experience independence by being mobile.
Miskan, a disabled driver himself, said physical restrictions were one of the biggest challenges faced by the disabled, who made up 15 per cent of society.
"Disabled drivers are continuously faced with other problems, such as inadequate parking facilities and ease of access, even though they might have the Class A licence and modified vehicles."