Much in the capital city eludes the physically challenged

One of my neighbors moved here from Sweden to work.  That he need to use a wheelchair in Cambodia, where there is little accommodation to individuals who cannot walk as well as able-bodied individuals, does not seem to faze him.

When I asked him about life in Phnom Penh for folks like him, he told me that he managed pretty well.  Of course, managing means that he takes a tuk-tuk or taxi everywhere, the streets being perilous even for pedestrians.  Too, I imagine that he forgoes destinations with insurmountable obstacles.

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My neighbor’s transportation.

(Example: I walked this morning along the side of a busy road in the direction of oncoming traffic just a couple of hours before drafting this post.  I didn’t hear the teen-age girl and her friend come up behind me on a motorbike, which bumped and brushed my bare shin.  Driving the wrong way is a national pastime.

(“Sorry,” the driver giggled as she drove away, and I luckily suffered no harm.  But the incident ruined my mood for the rest of my long walk.)

It happens that I came across a piece someone wrote about his experience of getting around Phnom Penh in a fancy wheelchair. There were places he could not visit at all or only with assistance — among them, the National Museum and the notoriously unsettling Toul Sleng museum, which graphically reveals the horrors of Cambodia’s genocide — as well as others he managed by himself.  Buses, which ply just three routes, were out of the question.

For foreigners like my neighbor, needing a wheelchair is hard enough. For Cambodians, a life that includes a range of disabilities must be unbearably difficult.

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A fishing boat cum home on the Mekong in Phnom Penh.

As I make my around the city,  I see numerous restaurants, cultural centers, entertainment venues and stores that apparently make it impossible for the physically challenged to enter. Whether they have some hidden elevators, I don’t know.

With respect to persons with other disabilities such as blindness and deafness, I doubt that they find Phnom Penh to be welcoming at all: Surviving the city’s traffic is dangerous enough with good vision, hearing and reflexes.

Email: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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