The disabled have rights
Society erects a number of barriers that keep disabled persons on the fringes. Simple everyday tasks that many take for granted can prove treacherous to the disabled because of the physical obstructions that are placed in their way by an environment which does not enable them to live a full life.
The January 29 death of wheelchair user Marlon King, struck by a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus as he tried to negotiate an obstacle in the unfriendly roadway in Papine, illustrates this point forcefully.
The utility poles that eat into sidewalks in parts of Papine have been there for many years, creating an obstacle course for the many physically challenged persons who use that roadway daily. It was only a matter of time before someone was run over. Unfortunately, it was 39-year-old King, described as ambitious and hard-working, a man who harboured the dream of taking his jewellery-making business to dizzying heights.
There was plenty of outrage after the accident. JUTC was sorry. Ministry of Transport was sorry. The bus driver was sorry. The disabled community was sorry. JPS was sorry. Political representatives were sorry. However, the poles are still firmly in place and there appears to be no immediate plan by the authorities to act.
Transport Minister Dr Omar Davies, in reacting to King's death, pointed to ongoing efforts to modernise the Road Traffic Act, along with other initiatives to make Jamaican roads safer. All this is laudable, but as we well know, Jamaica has many laws, but we fail miserably to enforce them. So who will ensure rigorous enforcement of the act? What is to be done about Golding Avenue? How many more persons must pay the ultimate price before something is done?
the stark truth
If the country cared enough, something would have been done to make Golding Avenue safer for pedestrians, including children. And there are many other dangerous roadways and other faulty environmental traps waiting for the next victim.
Some may say the Disabilities Act was passed in October 2014 and this is meant to protect and improve the welfare of persons with disability. A disproportionate number of persons in the Third World are living with disabilities. In Jamaica, the number hovers between 10 and 12 per cent of the population. Will the act mean a change in attitude towards the disabled? Will it result in more equitable treatment of the disabled?
Not only should the new legislation promote ways to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, it should also seek to end the marginalisation and isolation of disabled persons and initiate ways of integrating them into their communities where they should feel comfortable to make their own contribution to nation building. Each community should be empowered to provide support services for its disabled members.
It has been a hard struggle for people with disabilities to get their issues attended to. Forced to live on society's margins, it has taken great advocacy for small gains such as access to buildings and public transportation, and these are still not universally established.
If Jamaica is serious about taking care of its disabled population, the first thing required is a national audit of the infrastructure to identify areas of the built environment that will prove challenging to persons with disabilities and see that they are corrected.