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Group calls for improved disabled access

Increasing awareness: Ryan Gibbons and LaKiesha Wolffe of A New Life, a new non-profit organisation, aim to create a prosthetics clinic would make a huge difference to the 300 people on the island who have lost a limb. The organisation will hold its first tag day today and has launched a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for the clinic (Photograph provided)

Bermuda must do more to improve access for the disabled, a new non-profit group set up to help people who have lost limbs said this week.

LeKiesha Wolffe and Ryan Gibbons, of A New Life, said very few places were designed to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Mr Gibbons added that wheelchair-bound people — and even those who were physically fit — faced an “assault course” in Hamilton.

He said: “You can go around the city and there are very few places with real ramp access. There’s always one stair or a lip.

“We get it that the infrastructure is old, but at the same time are we just supposed to throw up our hands and not do anything about it?”

Mr Gibbons, an award-winning bartender who lost his leg as a result of a 2008 motorcycle crash, said legislation intended to improve accessibility needed more teeth.

He said: “There’s a place on Front Street that just got a design award — a new construction in an older building — and there is no access to get to the bathroom. You still need to go up a flight of stairs to get to the toilets.

“These businesses are not taking local people with disabilities into account, but there are also thousands of cruise ship passengers coming and some of them have handicaps.

“You have people who want to buy your products that can’t get into your building to buy your products.”

Ms Wolffe, the executive director of A New Life, said she had encountered regular problems since she lost her leg in a 2013 motorcycle crash.

She added: “My first year I was wheelchair-bound and it was horrible. I had a meeting a few weeks back while I was still on crutches. I went to go into the bathroom at a restaurant and I wasn’t able to get into the bathroom because the doorway was too tight. The stall was so small I couldn’t turn around.

“I have a small wheelchair, but it would never have been able to fit, either.”

Ms Wolffe said she was in the maternity ward at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital three years ago to give birth — and found the ward did not have a wheelchair-accessible bathroom.

She added: “They were building a bathroom in the maternity ward so that I could have access to a bath and a shower. All these years there have been other people who are handicapped having babies.

“I couldn’t go in with my wheelchair. I had to go in and hop with these stitches from my Caesarean section, with the possibility of tearing my stitches.”

Ms Wolffe said the lack of resources to help the disabled sometimes meant she could not do things with her young children without assistance.

She added: “People have these great ideas, fantastic things for Bermuda, but handicapped people don’t seem to exist when you’re building a business.”

Ms Wolffe said that there should be tougher penalties for those who park illegally in disabled bays.

She added: “That fine should be up to $1,000. Do that, and I guarantee you no one would park in that bay.

“I go to park outside the post office and have people tell me they are just running in. You’re in a handicapped bay, honey.”

Ms Wolffe said that there were not enough disabled parking spaces and obvious spots, such as outside the office of the Department of Financial Assistance, had none.