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Let’s court equality

Not good enough!

andrewpilgrimThat’s how one local association for persons with disabilities has deemed Barbados’ highest court and the inability of certain physically challenged individuals to gain access there.

It is a situation which Immediate Past President of the Bar Association, Andrew Pilgrim, has acknowledged is a concern and which the body hopes Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson can address sooner rather than later.

“While the building on the outside is accessible, not all courtrooms apparently are accessible and there is a need for them to make it more accessible to the general population, whether they have challenges or not,” Pilgrim said this evening.

It was a matter, he recalled, that had been raised by the association in the past, and which they had been advised that changes would have to be gradually made.

“It has been raised in the past. It came up as an issue quite early on and they were saying that most of the courtrooms can be accessible but there are little things that still have to be done.

“I believe that these are things that the Chief Justice will hopefully be looking at and the sooner the better,” he said.

When contacted, Chief Justice Sir Marston’s secretary said the head of the court system had indicated that concerns regarding the matter should be addressed to Registrar Marva Clarke.

Attempts to reach both Clarke or Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite on the matter proved futile up to late evening.

Pilgrim’s comments stemmed from queries regarding an open letter by President of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Barbados, Boneta Phillips, who today expressed her own frustration and surprise on realising how inadequate the provisions of the High Court were, especially for persons with physical disabilities and those in wheelchairs.

In an exhaustive letter, Phillips told of having to attend the court for the first time and realising that her wheelchair could not even get into the courtroom and furthermore that the lone bathroom for wheelchair-bound visitors, was out of service.

Expressing dissatisfaction that “the physical environment [was] inaccessible”, with “hard” marble benches which though attractive were not practical for those with challenges and had no armrests to assist those who needed help sitting or standing from seated positions.

“The greatest challenge however was walking into the civil court to find that I could not get my wheelchair further than the doorway. The fixed furniture prohibited me from having access into the court. Yes, I had an apology from the Judge for the inaccessibility but that did not change the fact that I did not have equal access and felt at a disadvantage,” noted Phillips.

She further stated: “The major disappointment was finding that the highest court in the land, by it’s physical environment, is making a clear statement that equal access has not considered. Lawyers and staff in wheelchairs could not been accommodated; I can only assume that because of accessibility they are prohibited from even attempting to work in the Court…

“A clear statement by the court would be to have an accessible environment. It would also be a good example to see members of staff with disabilities in the judicial system, at whatever level. Changes would also indicate that there is an understanding of the challenges that persons with disabilities face on a daily basis and that there is a genuine commitment by the Courts to equal opportunities and equal access,” she maintained. (LB)

* Please see also page 26

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