Deadline looms for disability access to public spaces
Americas, June 20 2016
NASSAU: Proprietors of all buildings which the public is permitted to enter – banks, supermarkets, churches, schools, sporting complexes, government facilities and medical centers, for example – have until June 30, 2016 to ensure there are adequate accessible parking spaces for persons with disabilities. That according to Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin, who has stressed that those proprietors have until December 31, 2017 to ensure that their buildings are accessible, or face “enforcement action”.
And the minister also reported that the government has included $10 million in the capital budget for a multi-service facility for persons with developmental disabilities.
The minister reiterated that on January 1, 2016, the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act (Equal Opportunities) 2014 pertaining to accessibility to public buildings and parking came into force, starting the clock for proprietors of public spaces to ensure compliance with rules governing accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Griffin said during her contribution to the Christie administration’s 2016/2017 budget, “For too long, persons with disabilities have been excluded from our churches, parks and even government offices because of inaccessibility. Indeed, they are denied the enjoyment of everyday life because, more often than not, they do not have access to the built environment.”
“Included in this budget are provisions for the (Disabilities) Commission to increase its public education and awareness efforts to help ensure that proprietors are compliant with the Act, so that persons with disabilities can truly enjoy an accessible, barrier-free environment,” she said.
She said the budget includes provisions to recruit and employ inspectors who will be required to investigate, and if necessary, recommend prosecution for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act.
Using the WHO (World Health Organization) metric that states that anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of persons in a country will experience some type of disability, Griffin estimated that somewhere between 37,000 and 55,000 Bahamians are living with some type of disability, whether it be physical, intellectual, psychological or developmental.
“Unfortunately, it is expected that these numbers will go up due to the effects of increasing rates of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. We can no longer ignore this problem in our midst and so we must build accordingly, not only for future generations but for ourselves. We must also build for those whose disabilities are not physical but developmental,” she said.
In addition to announcing that the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities has begun a registration process, Griffin reported that $10M has been allocated in the capital works budget of the Ministry of Works for a multi-service facility on Gladstone Road for persons with developmental disabilities.
The facility is to be built on 30 acres of Crown-granted property and construction will be done in two phases. Phase One will include a covered drive-up area, administrative offices, auditorium, cafeteria, light manufacturing facilities, woodwork area, car detailing, education block, medical building, horticulture/agriculture and nature trail. Phase Two will include respite housing, horse stable and riding trails for therapeutic purposes, a pool and recreational games area.
“If we are to engage in the creation of society that values all life, then we must put our time, our talents and our money into building facilities that address the needs of the many persons with disabilities who cannot speak for themselves. The facility at Gladstone Road will bring persons with various abilities into one place.
“By doing so, we greatly increase our population’s awareness to persons with disabilities, increase our tolerance for persons who are different from us, bring more people into the workforce and above all display the often hidden and untapped talents of persons with different abilities,” Griffin said.