Case made for built environment access law
A disability rights activist believes that even though the United Nations Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities has been ratified, the rights of disabled people in Barbados are yet crippled.
Furthermore, operations manager of the Barbados Council For The Disabled, Roseanna Tudor, says she is “cautiously optimistic” about any law relating to access to the built environment, the challenge of getting such passed said to be one of the main challenges for differently abled people.
And it is mainly because it has now been 15 years since Barbados’ National Building Code began its “makeover”, says Tudor. With the several technical meetings held, to boot, the Council For The Disabled officer is of the opinion the entire exercise continues to be affected by “IDD” [implementation deficit disorder].
Tudor, who was speaking recently on the Accessibility To The Built Environment at the Caricom High-Level Ministerial Meeting On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, further said: “As a society we still don’t quite perceive disability rights to be equal rights. The proof lies in the fact that our governments are yet to legislate the necessary laws requiring all public and private organizations to redesign barriers like doorways, entry-ways, washrooms . . . or modify their informational structures so the blind, deaf or dyslexic can have equal access.
“Though we have seen some measure of progress in creating awareness to these rights in Barbados, it is still a long way to go when we can get our lawmakers to understand that disability rights are civil rights, and our citizens should be encouraged to see disabilities as being less biological and more social in nature.”
Tudor accompanied chairman of the Barbados Council For The Disabled, President of the Senate Senator Kerry-ann Ifill to the high-level meeting, where Ifill also made representation on Barbados’ behalf.
Tudor told the forum: “Most of the disadvantages encountered by ‘disabled’ persons are socially and environmentally created. Imagine, if there are only stairs to the workplace, those employees who may unfortunately and unexpectedly have to use a wheelchair have no independent access to the building. Those stairs become his barrier that disables him.
“If there are no tactile tiles or audible signals at crossings, the blind can’t self-navigate. Those become his barriers from being able to access for example the bank or his doctor independently . . . leaving him with no choice but to reluctantly seek help to climb over the disabling environmental barriers we built. Therefore it is clear that persons with disabilities suffer additional impairments because of the built environment created without their needs in mind.”
She added: “It should be now clear that a disability is not so much a physical problem within the individual than one which primarily arises from the environment being built in ways that reflect social attitudes and norms that are unresponsive to the needs of those disabled. “Unfortunately, many able-bodied people think about the ‘person with an additional impairment’ as being saddled with biological deficits, so all they need is medical attention and some public assistance. As a result we try to fix the person with a disability instead of creating a society that would adapt to his abilities.”
Tudor, who has worked for more than 14 years as a representative of disabled people, has therefore called for a building code to be enacted. She stressed that without its being legislated, the most the Town Planning Department in Barbados could do is to advise prospective builders of the requirements laid out in the Building Code revisions that address accessibility of the built environment.
“Imagine if the built environment were adapted for the entire range of human abilities, the people our environment disables would benefit from fewer limitations and no public perceived ‘special privileges’. The [Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] created human rights obligations at the international level for ‘disabled’ persons which are intended to effect change at the local level. When our governments implement the necessary laws it should lead to deeper understanding of these human rights for the people society disables. In the past we have seen the law change mental barriers; and it will do the same with the barriers created by an inaccessible environment,” she said.
Nevertheless, Tudor told the audience the Council For The Disabled , which represents most of the major disability groups in Barbados, was driven by the need to change attitudes and create enough awareness that would make people understand that it was the environment that created the disability.
Hence, they developed a national accessibility programme, Fully Accessible Barbados and she called on other CARICOM partners to adopt a similar programme, which it is hoped will one day stop disabling citizens. (KC)