City could do more for disabled, says charity
Disabled people should be consulted before policies that would affect them are drawn up, the head of a charity for the handicapped said yesterday.
LaKeisha Wolffe, the founder of A New Life, claimed that the City of Hamilton had failed to consult disabled people about a plan to create more disabled parking bays.
She said that she had in the past made proposals to the city to help formulate policy, but was turned down.
Ms Wolffe added that a failure to consult had meant many disabled parking spots were situated in the wrong places and difficult to use.
She explained: “When I go to open my car door, it’s opening up next to a tree or a trash can or a pole, so now I can’t open my door fully to get out properly because my leg is bulky and I need the room to get out.”
“Or when I have to park — I’m parking right in front of a pedestrian crosswalk, so when I reverse I have to watch to make sure that I don’t hit anybody at the pedestrian crossing.”
Ms Wolffe added that the kerbs alongside disabled bays were not adapted for wheelchairs and made it difficult for users to get on to the sidewalk.
She said: “While I appreciate the people who are trying to look out for us, none of them are handicapped. I agree that you all want to give us more, but you’re not doing it right.
“And the fact that you don’t want to call somebody who you know is advocating and who you know has come to you with proposals is insulting.”
Ms Wolffe added: “Everybody keeps saying that they want to change this and change that, but you all are going to the wrong people.
“I’m not asking to get rich, but this is something that I’m trying to do and change for Bermuda.”
Ms Wolffe, who lost her leg after a crash six years ago, was speaking after the CoH announced plans last month to increase the number of disabled parking bays from 45 to 73.
She explained that discussions with the disabled community were needed so the city authority could understand how to best assist the physically disadvantaged.
The city’s announcement of the increased number of disabled parking spaces, made just before Christmas, sparked a backlash from many city stores, who complained that the move would worsen parking problems.
They added that the move would be useless without a clamp down on able-bodied motorists who abused disabled spaces.
Ms Wolffe agreed that abuse was common and that more should be done to penalise drivers who illegally parked in disabled bays.
She added that the parking fine for unauthorised use of a disabled bay should be increased from $75 to about $1,000 as a deterrent.
Ms Wolffe explained: “They need to make something to make this enforceable, where people are not even going to want to consider it.”
She added: “If we don’t stand up and put our feet down and make people accountable then we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Dwayne Caines, the chief operating officer for the City of Hamilton, admitted that charities for the disabled were not consulted when the increase in disabled parking was planned.
But he added: “The reason why we did not do this is because this was something we knew we had to have done for over five years.
“We recognised that we were woefully under the international standard and the standard which we had established for ourselves.
“We’ve done a significant amount to meet the international standard for individuals who are visually impaired as well as physically challenged.”
Mr Caines said that the city did not have the authority to slap fines on people who abused disabled spaces because it was a police responsibility.
But he added that a plan to better handle parking violations in Hamilton had been created and awaited approval.
Mr Caines said: “The City of Hamilton is committed to making the city accessible to all.
“We recognise the need for consultation and we will endeavour to do more as it relates to consulting with the relevant stakeholders so that they can be active participants in their city.
“Ms Wolffe is an active member of the physically-challenged community and the city has an immense respect for her plight and her product.”
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