A New Moblity Agenda for the Vision Impaired in Penang

In the context of the Sustainable Penang/New Mobility 2014 program, the key to the success of the project lies in the identification and eventual Penang St Nicholas Home logopreparation and implementation of specific, practical, relatively low cost concepts and measures which give more importance to non-motorized transport and public transportation than to the traditional uses of the private car. One of the ideas that came up early in the Focus Group  brainstorming sessions was that of providing voice announcements for the blind and others with visual impairments on the new Rapid Penang bus services being developed across the state. In the following excellent article prepared by the local NGO Saint Nicolas Home we see how thoroughly they are looking at the problems of mobility and access for the visually impaired. Thus it is not surprising that Saint Nicolas Home is emerging as one of the most engaged champions of this collaborative project for 2014.  (We shall be seeing more about that project shortly here.)

Mobility And Accessibility For Vision Impaired Community In Pulau Pinang



  • No pedestrian crossing at major traffic junctions.
  • Warning tactile block is not consistently located at the start and end of pedestrian crossing.
  • Disconnect between pedestrian walkway and crossing.
  • Placement of buzzer button not standardized. Some facing in while others facing away from pedestrian walkway.
  • Warning buzzer placed at one end of the crossing only.
  • Motorist brazenly ignores traffic signal endangering VI using pedestrian crossings.

Propose Solutions

  • All major traffic junctions should have pedestrian crossing with buzzer.
  • Warning tactile block should be place at the start and end of all crossing in consistent manner.
  • Ensure the continuity of walkway and pedestrian crossing road free from barriers or obstruction such as hand railings, signage etc.
  • Buzzer button should always be placed facing the walkway.
  • Warning buzzers should be placed on both ends of crossing to guide VI across the road.
  • Place the camera at the pedestrian crossing to capture the motorized transports that are not observing traffic laws.



  • Not all bus stops are equipped with ramps, safety handrails, and tactile warning/guiding blocks.
  • Inconsistently placed rubbish bins and signage obstruct safe use of the bus stops.

Buses do not stop at the correct or designated position at bus stop for safe boarding and alighting. In certain cases, bus driver just open the bus doors for passenger to alight while still a distance away from the bus stop, particularly in heavy traffic.

  • Bus driver not stopping when request stop button have been pushed.
  • Bus driver skipping stops without informing the passenger.

Proposed Solutions

  • Having ramps will not only help disabled and senior citizen access the bus stop safely, it benefits all users. Tactile warning and guide blocks are needed at bus stops not only to guide the VI to the bus stop but also to warn them of their proximity to the kerb. In the absence of safety handrails, a row of warning tactile block or other tactile indicator should be placed before the kerb so that VI will not step off the kerb into traffic by accident.
  • Rubbish bins and signage if necessary should be placed consistently at fixed location away from the walkway to avoid obstructing VI users. Collision with these obstructions may confuse and disorientate the VI.
  • Buses must always stop at the designated spot to ensure safe boarding and alighting for all passengers.
  • If buses are skipping stops, bus drivers must make an announcement to inform VI passengers. To facilitate that, the seats closest to the driver should be reserved for VI passengers. A better solution would be to have auto-announcement of next stop on the bus so that VI can alight at the correct stop. Having a tactile route map with Braille on the bus and at the bus stop will also free VI from having to request assistance from fellow passenger.



  • Inappropriately placed signage obstructing free movement on walkways.
  • Broken walkway surface or tiles, overgrown tree roots on walkways and oversized drain covers which may cause tripping.
  • Uncovered drains and unrepaired potholes which may lead to falls.
  • Incorrectly orientated grating for manholes and drains, catching white cane’s tip leading to breakage.
  • Poor water drainage causing pooling on walkways making it slippery.
  • Dangling wires from lamp posts and advertisement light boxes.
  • Potted plants placed illegally on walkways
  • Illegal parking on walkways, particularly motorcycle which obstruct use of walkways.
  • Illegal placement of hawker stalls, tables and chairs on walkways fronting restaurant and eateries.
  • Walkway that is too narrow.
  • Lack of pedestrian walkway.
  • Low hanging banners and streamers posing a danger to VI pedestrian.

Proposed Solutions

  • All incorrectly placed signage to be relocated.
  • Walkway to be properly maintained and repaired where necessary, removal of overgrown tree roots and using correctly sized drain covers.
  • All rains close to walkway are to be covered with concrete covers.
  • Drain covers to be orientated with the long sides in perpendicular to the direction of movement. Another solution is to use drain covers with small diameter drain holes to avoid white cane catching inside the gaps.
  • Proper slope on walkways to channel water away preventing pooling on walkways.
  • Dangling wires from light posts and light boxes are to be repaired immediately.
  • Stricter enforcement on illegal obstruction such hawker stalls, tables, chairs, parked motorcycles, potted plants and signage.
  • All walkway should be minimum 1500mm for two way pedestrian traffic.
  • All streamers should be hung no lower than 2m to avoid causing injury to VI pedestrian. Banners and streamers must be securely fastened to avoid tripping VI pedestrian.



  • Direction of travel for escalator changed without notice.
  • No warning tactile blocks at lift doors and escalator landings.
  • Lack of braille indication for lift buttons.
  • Potted plant placed indiscriminately within building.
  • No guided tactile blocks to information counter if VI needs assistance, particularly in buildings with wide and open interior spaces.
  • OKU toilet not available on all level within the building and sometimes locked.
  • Building lack tactile maps for VI.
  • Some buildings have full swing doors which posed a danger to VI.

Proposed Solutions

  • Direction of travel for escalators must be permanent. Building management should station a staff at both landings to warn users if there are any changes in direction.
  • The warning tactile block should be placed at lift doors and escalator landings.
  • All the lift should be equipped with button with Braille.
  • Potted plant should not be placed in open areas within the building unless there are clear walkways marked with tactile blocks. Where there are tactile blocks, they should be placed close to the wall for ease of orientation.
  • There should be tactile blocks to guide VI to the information counter so that they can seek assistance. Information counter should also be located near the main entrance and staff manning the counter needs to be trained in providing assistance to the disabled and alert and provide assistance whenever a disabled enters the building.
  • Place a tactile map at the front entrance of buildings or near escalator/lifts to help orientate VI.
  • Use an automatic sliding door instead.



  • Lack of public transport at certain areas.
  • Inconsistent service and schedule of buses.
  • Expensive taxi charges.

Proposed Solutions

  • Make available on call mobility cab designed for disabled passenger.
  • Provides free assistance for the disable at public transport terminals such as railway station, bus terminal and airports.
  • Mobility cab charges should be subsidized for disabled community.

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About Saint Nicolas Home

Founded in 1926, St. Nicholas’ Home, Penang has a long history of caring for the blind and visually impaired person in Malaysia. Today being a voluntary non-profit and non-governmental (NGO), the Home has close to 100 blind and visually impaired residents and trainees ranging from age 6 to 77 years residing, irrespective of religion, race and background. Besides providing free residential care for the blind, St. Nicholas’ Home has a plethora of services to offer its blind resident and trainees to allow them to work and integrate within the community.

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About the editor

about the editor 21dec13

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