Disabilities Bill raises hope
Sheldon Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Gloria Goffe, executive director of Combined Disabilities Association, is optimistic that the Disabilities Bill passed in Parliament on July 22 will bring an end to what she describes as segregated travelling for the disabled in public passenger vehicles.
She said improved mobility and accessibility of public transportation for the disabled are well overdue and she anticipates a gradual shift to transportation integration. Part 10 of the bill focuses on public passenger vehicles and outlines that the Government must provide accessible means of public transport for the disabled.
Clause 40 of the bill reads: "The minister with responsibility for public passenger vehicles shall ensure, as far as is practicable, the provision of public passenger vehicles that are accessible to and usable by persons with a disability."
Another clause says: "In this section 'public passenger vehicles' includes any motor vehicle or any other conveyance for transport by road, rail, air or water that provides the general public with a general or special transportation service on a regular or continuing basis."
Goffe clarified: "What it is saying is that the Government has an obligation to ensure that as far as is practicable that the public transportation is provided that is accessible to persons with disabilities. We know that will take some time, because it has to begin with when new buses come into the system."
She said the disabled community is considerate about the time required.
"We are not unreasonable people. We don't expect them to throw out all the present buses and bring in wheelchair accessibility buses that ply every route that everybody can use. They did that this year, but that was still segregated travelling," she said.
Goffe elaborated that by segregated travelling she means.
" … We are not mixing. Those who take those buses are not mixing, but the majority of disabled persons mix because we travel every day."
Now, she wants the Government to commit to importing specialised buses for the disabled each time a new fleet of regular buses are bought.
"Every time you bring in buses, you bring in more wheelchair buses because you want us to be travelling with the rest of the public," she said.
She said disabled persons suffer various kinds of discrimination on public transportation, based on their specific disabilities. She said blind persons, when alone at a bus stop, have a difficult time identifying the vehicle's destinations.
"Some drivers, when they see them with their canes, will slow down and ask them where they are going," Goffe said.
She suggested that acceptable bus stop signage be installed to make travel easier for blind passengers.
"In the new First World country that we want to live in or plan to live in, you would hope that there are proper bus stops with technology that will tell you what number bus is coming. Right now, by the time they hear the bus and put out their hand, it drive pass," Goffe said.
Goffe said persons with lower limb issues, such as back problems, face the greatest challenge, especially if they are in wheelchairs.
"The wheelchair-accessible buses run on certain routes and certain times of the day and, because of the number of different places they have to go, it is not always convenient for a student or working person. By the time they do their exchanges and come together, they are late," she pointed out.
She also said persons who are deaf are often accused of pretending to be disabled, as there are no immediately obvious physical signs of disability.
Goffe also wants bus drivers to be more sensitive towards disabled passengers and recommends ongoing training, "especially newer drivers coming into the system".
She added: "Like in every other job, somebody migrates, somebody may get fired, somebody may die and a new driver comes in who is not exposed to the training and their behaviour shows that they are not enlightened."