Legislation of mobility facilities for disabled persons as backup to existing goodwill

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar
on Building Non-Handicapping Environments
Harare, Zimbabwe, January 16-18, 1992

Legislation of mobility facilities for disabled persons as backup to existing goodwill


Zorah Rajah, Disabled Peoples' International, Mauritius

Goodwill should be encouraged by thanks. Never be afraid to say thank you. Goodwill should be given criteria for action otherwise it might remain just an expression of good intent, but never try to over-organize it, it thrives on freedom and such of its beauty and spontaneity would be killed off if unduly curtailed by strict rules.

Rules should be raised as rare plants nurtured and allowed to grow into strong trees which only then can be called laws. The media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines) should be extensively used to make people aware of the presence of disabled people, of their difficulties, of what they can do for society and what they can expect in return. It is a whole process of awareness awakening, and positive education about how people can put their natural goodwill to effective use. It is a smooth powerful education by suggestion and spreading of ideas. TV, films, documentaries, and interviews are all available or can be accessed on demand. Good use must be made of them until the idea that disabled people are worthy, interesting and productive is well-anchored in the public mind. People with disabilities will then be able to stake their claim to social facilities of which the main one is physical accessibility to places reserved up to now to the non-disabled.

As an example of progression from awareness to law, take the safety belt. It started as an idea with which inventors experimented until eventually they developed a good reliable safety device. People started to use it; its use was first recommended by authorities then strongly advised and finally enforced by law. People do not begrudge the minor inconveniences of the safety belt because they know it is useful and saves lives. Mobility facilities for the disabled persons should follow the same route.

As far as people with disabilities are concerned, law is no substitute for good manners and educated goodwill; it is only there as a guard against those who, through selfishness or for the protection of their money, choose to live at the expense of society. Initiating legislation in view of acquiring Mauritian structures within which disabled people can feel at ease is a must. The latter should enjoy the maximum mobility technology and careful planning can give them. Places in Mauritius which should receive special attention are:

the airport:  
cinemas: There is a theater in Rose Hill which is comfortable and air-conditioned. Unfortunately one must climb 10 steps before reaching one's seat.
theaters: We have two main theaters in Plaine Wilhems and Port Louis. Both of them are old buildings dating from as far back as 1800. They have been renovated of course but wheelchair access is still non-existent.
post offices: Most of them are old colonial buildings. There is at least one steep step to climb and again no wheelchair access.
forest resorts: Those are really non-accessible to the physically disabled.
seaside resorts: They are very popular in Mauritius for tourists and nationals, but one hardly ever sees people with disabilities there. The sea is out of reach for them, toilets cannot be used.
government buildings: They should be physically accessible to the general public but this is not the case.
banks: Access is barred once more by inconvenient steps.
bus terminals: They have been constructed with no consideration whatsoever for people with sight and mobility impairments.
shopping centers: Arcade corridors are good enough but access to then from streets and from them to shops is impeded by steps.
stadiums: Even the most recent one, finished in 1990, makes no allowance for the accommodation of persons using wheelchairs.
hospitals and clinics: Inaccessible or difficult accessibility.

If one includes hostels, doctors and dentist offices, restaurants, etc. the list of inaccessible places can be very long. Indeed, one can hardly find a place in Mauritius where concern for the accessibility is shown.

Special parking allotments for vehicles carrying disabled persons should be provided at least in busy and crowded areas; and special parking cards issued to them. Buses should be adapted for disabled people, run according to fixed reliable schedules, and stop for embarkation/disembarkation at well delimited stops.

In conclusion, we can say that Mauritius is very deficient in accessibility facilities for people with disabilities. A campaign of awareness awakening should be launched along the media sources already mentioned and society made to progress from natural inborn goodwill to social self-discipline, enforced by law where necessary. Here we have architects and environment designers especially in mind. The aim of our country should be to emulate avant-garde countries like Canada or even Hong Kong from where our Abilympic competitors just returned with a lot of praise for the mobility facilities disabled persons enjoy there. 

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