State should set the example with amenities for people with disabilities
The foot injury that has given Government Senator Charles Sinclair some amount of difficulty to move around is most regrettable, and we extend best wishes to him for a full and speedy recovery.
Maybe, though, that discomfort will prove fortuitous for people with disabilities, because the goodly senator is now experiencing the challenges that those individuals are having in accessing some buildings.
In our story on this issue last Saturday, Senator Sinclair notes that, while a ramp has been installed at St James Parish Court, it gives disabled people access only to the ground floor. However, all the courtrooms are upstairs, with the exception of the Western Regional Gun Court and one that is sometimes used by the justices of the peace.
Highlighting the pain he felt at watching individuals with physical challenges attempt to access some areas, Senator Sinclair said: “I’ve seen persons come to court and they are in a wheelchair and they have to sit down and wait until some friend or family or others come to take them up the staircase.”
Unfortunately, Senator Sinclair’s experience is but one example of what really exists across Jamaica.
He told this newspaper that he will be insisting at this week’s meeting of the St James Municipal Corporation that inspections of buildings need to be conducted as quickly as possible in order to make assessments and recommendations.
These inspections, we expect, will be conducted under the Government’s Accessibility Checklist established to ensure conformity to the provisions of the Disabilities Act 2014.
The Act, which came into effect on February 14, 2022, mandates that public buildings be outfitted with the requisite amenities to enable easy access by people with disabilities. Breaches may incur fines of up to $1 million.
The checklist, we are told, is designed to be a source of identifying architectural, structural, and communication barriers to people with physical challenges.
Last December, at the launch of the checklist, Labour and Social Security Minister Pearnel Charles Jr appealed to business owners, planners, architects, and managers to ensure that buildings are equipped with ramps, rails, and elevators, and that websites are accessible to people with disabilities.
A similar appeal was made four months earlier by state minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Dr Norman Dunn, who stated that increased enforcement of the Disabilities Act, 2014 will be undertaken to ensure ease of access to public buildings by persons with disabilities.
We join both legislators in that call. At the same time, we encourage them to give equal focus to state agencies in this matter.
The Parliament building — where the Bill was tabled, debated, and, after many years of procrastination, was finally passed into law — is the perfect place to start. The State needs to set the pace on this most important provision that speaks to how we treat people with disabilities.
Additionally, Minister Charles Jr and his team should embark on a crusade to have public infrastructure, most notably sidewalks, designed for the comfort of people with physical challenges, especially those who are blind or are afflicted with sight impediments.
Those are amenities that decent, self-respecting societies provide for their citizens.