Arief and his motorcycle taxi at the Asian Para Games 2018 in South Jakarta. (JG Photo/Diella Yasmine)

Ironically, Lack of Accessibility Still Plagues Jakarta's Asian Para Games

OCTOBER 15, 2018

Jakarta. After earning worldwide praises for its second Asian Games this year, Indonesia continued its good run as host by organizing the Asian Para Games for the first time. The international multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities was held in Jakarta from Oct. 6 to 13.

A total of 3,000 athletes from 43 countries competed in 568 events in 18 disciplines during the Asian Para Games.

More than 1,900 officials and 8,000 volunteers – both disabled and non-disabled – also participated in the Para Games, making it the biggest para-sports event ever held in Indonesia.

At the opening ceremony, the chairman of the Asian Para Games Organizing Committee (Inapgoc), Raja Sapta Oktohari, said the Para Games' main objective is to celebrate the talents and spirit of disabled people.

Asian Paralympic Committee president Majid Rashed said this year’s Asian Para Games took in the largest number of participating athletes and countries in its history.

Despite being home to about 60 percent of the world’s population, Asia is still underrepresented on the global stage when it comes to para-sports.

"This year’s Asian Para Games should show to everyone that disabled people can achieve success and exceed their limitations if given the opportunities," Rashed said.

In the medal table, Indonesia surpassed expectations by ranking fifth with a total of 135 medals – 37 gold, 47 silver and 51 bronze.

The local contingent's original target was 17 gold medals.

Out of the arena, Indonesia also surprised by managing to make the area around Gelora Bung Karno, the huge sporting complex where most of the Para Games events were held, more disabled-accessible.

Unfortunately, the Para Games still suffered from snags and lack of organization that created barriers for the physically disabled during the event.

Before the Para Games began, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had promised the event will provide complete – and free – facilities for disabled athletes, their families and fans during the game.

Construction continued after the Asian Games to ensure all the venues, transportation and facilities were ready for Para Games athletes and fans.

This included revamping the athletes' village in Kemayoran, East Jakarta, to improve its disability access.

The Asian Para Games committee appointed Transjakarta – operator of the bus service running on a dedicated lane on Jakarta's streets – as an official transportation partner.

Transjakarta managed to provide 200 low-entry buses and 100 high-entry but disabled-friendly buses to be used during the Para Games.

The company also offered free rides for people going to and from Para Games venues.

Aside from the free buses, motorcycle taxis for the disabled were also provided at Para Games venues to transport both athletes and spectators.

Near Gate 5 at the entrance of Gelora Bung Karno, two types of motorcycle taxis were neatly parked in long lines awaiting customers.

One type had a sidecar and the other was a modified tricycle.

All the motorcycle taxies were painted in bright colors with a huge picture of Momo, the bondol eagle that was the official mascot of the 2018 Asian Para Games.

The motorcycle taxis were driven by disabled men and women.

56-year-old Arief was one of them.

Every day during the Para Games, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., he rode his modified tricycle to transport disabled visitors and senior citizens from one venue to another.

A motorcycle taxi loading a passenger at the 2018 Asian Para Games. (JG Photo/Diella Yasmine)

Arief said only children, senior citizens and disabled people are allowed a ride on the motorcycle taxis.

Arief is hard of hearing but that has never dampened his spirit.

He said working as a motorcycle taxi driver during the Para Games allowed him to earn quite a bit of extra money.

"I also run a warung at home but this job on the side pays well, in fact, I earn more from this than from my warung!" Arief said.

However, Arief complained there were not enough shelters for disabled people to wait for their ride.

"We have several bus shelters here, but they're not disabled-friendly. [Disabled] people have to wait on the side of the road, and often I have to lift them myself to my bike," Arief said.

The tent bus shelters for disabled people were often overcrowded by the non-disabled. (JG Photo/Diella Yasmine)

Every bus stop inside the Gelora Bung Karno featured a white tent with foldable chairs inside it to be used by disabled people waiting for their ride.

However, the shelters were often crowded by non-disabled visitors who also took up most of the chairs.

Visually impaired Muhammad Azriel Hafiz and his friend Adam complained about the problem.

The 35-year-old Azriel said he was forced to walk around the GBK with his friend since the overcrowded bus shelters meant they could rarely get a seat on the bus.

"I wanted to go to the Para Festival but a girl [volunteer] told me the buses were already full. So, we had to walk quite far to get there," Azriel said.

Adam said there should have been more "disabled-friendly shuttle buses and a special shelter for disabled people to catch a ride."

46-year-old Suharyono meanwhile went to the Para Games with his son Dimas, who has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair since he was three years old.

Suharyono was so excited to take Dimas to the first Asian Para Games in Indonesia.

But Suharyono said even though the sprawling GBK was actually easy to navigate, there wasn't enough space in the shuttle buses for people in wheelchairs.

"We did ride in the shuttle once, but it was so crowded. We were lucky we could get in. I wonder how many people in wheelchairs could fit in such a tiny space," he said.

Lack of staff manning shelters was also a problem throughout the Para Games.

Unlike during the Asian Games, when staff and volunteers could be seen everywhere, many bus shelters during the Para Games were left unattended.

This resulted in overcrowding and people storming the doors of buses trying to get in, elbowing out disabled passengers.

Lack of zebra crossing posed dangers for visually impaired visitors who wanted to cross the road around GBK. (JG Photo/Diella Yasmine)

Before the Para Games started, pavements around the city had been laid with Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSI), the yellow lines with raised Lego-like dots that help the visually impaired navigate their way on the sidewalks.

Unfortunately, many non-disabled visitors did not know what the yellow lines were for, including 22-year-olds Nadira and Gamael.

"I thought the yellow line was used to divide the pavement into two halves, so people walk on either side [of the line]," Nadira said.

Many of the sidewalks – and the TGSIs – also ran into hastily installed tent bus shelters, leaving disabled people with nowhere else to go but the open road.

And the lack of zebra crossings on the road also made it impossible for the visually impaired to cross the street comfortably, or even safely.

"There aren't nearly enough zebra crossings and the ones that are there are still not disabled-friendly," Azriel said.

Little Baby Steps Toward Better Accessibility

Nevertheless, the Para Games had been an unqualified success when it comes to promoting a more disabled-friendly atmosphere in the country.

President Jokowi said in his speech during the opening ceremony of the Asian Para Games on Oct. 6 that the event should provide a steep learning curve for Indonesian administrations who want to make their cities more disabled-accessible.

Inapgoc had trained 8,000 volunteers to provide special services for disabled athletes during the Games.

3,000 of them received their training at the Social Affairs Ministry.

One of them, 20-year-old university student Muhammad Reza Ahadian, said every volunteer was given training in basic sign language and also other technical skills to be able to help people with various types of disability.

He said being a volunteer at the Para Games had already taught him many new skills.

"I never learned to how to communicate with disabled people before. Because of the Para Games, my knowledge and awareness of disabled people and their world have improved immeasurable and I hope I could share my new knowledge with my friends," Reza said.