Are disabled citizens being left behind in San Pedro?

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Edbin Caballeros; Disabled Citizen of San Pedro

Are San Pedro taxi drivers discriminating against disabled people? That is the first question that comes to mind when a wheelchair dependent person visited with The San Pedro Sun to complain that he is being ignored by most taxi drivers. Edbin Caballeros, a Boca del Rio resident, has been confined to a wheelchair for almost two years now and there is one problem that has him upset; taxi drivers will not pick him up and he feels that he is being discriminated against.

33-year-old Caballeros believes that the reason taxi drivers would not pick him up is because he would require a little more time and patience due to his wheelchair. “Sometimes when I want their service they would say “I am busy” and then about ten feet away from me, the taxi would go and park,” explains Caballeros.

A very somber and emotional Caballeros explained that he is not asking cab drivers for a free ride, all he wants is a service and to be treated with respect. “I am not asking them for a free ride; all I am doing is requesting a service which I am willing to pay for. If because of my wheelchair I need to pay eight dollars, and the normal people pay seven dollars, then I am willing to pay the additional dollar. All I want is for them to be considerate and picture themselves in my position. Most of them honk their horns at normal people, offering them taxi service, but not to the wheelchair man. I want them to have a little bit of dignity upon themselves and to treat me with respect and like any other person requesting a service,” said Caballeros.

According to CARE Belize, the organization that assists disabled/handicapped people in Belize, San Pedro Town is not the only place where disabled people are discriminated against. CARE Belize explained however, that in 2011, the Government of Belize (GOB) signed on to the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which clearly outlines that all governments should ensure that disabled people’s rights are respected.

Article 9 section 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly outlines that people with disabilities must have access on an equal basis with others to transportation. “To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, State Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia: (A) Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces. Section 2 of the same article explains that State Parties shall also take appropriate measures to; (a) Develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public and (b) Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities.”

Such access to transportation, according to Article 20 of the same convention, should be at the disable person’s time of choice and should be affordable. “State Parties shall take effective measures to ensure personal mobility with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities, including by, (a) Facilitating the personal mobility of persons with disabilities in the manner and at the time of their choice, and at an affordable cost.

Edbin Caballeros

Under such cases, where disabled persons are denied the equal right to public transportation at time of choice and at an affordable cost, CARE Belize would bring the matter to the attention of the Transport Department to ensure that such discriminatory practices are discontinued. In speaking to the Head of the San Pedro Traffic Department Chris Nuñez, The San Pedro Sundiscovered that he is not aware that taxis are discriminating against disabled people. “I have not received any such complaint but I would advise that if a person living with a disability is denied taxi service, for them (the disabled person) to document a report to the Transport Department. Get the license plate of the taxi, the taxi number and the time of the incident so that we can bring the matter to their Taxi Association and to the Taxi Federation. If we find that the taxi driver is not fit to conduct his public service without prejudice, then we will have to act on that,” said Nunez.

And while Caballero has been denied his right to “public transportation at time of his choice,” the issue brings to light another concern. For visitors who are wheelchair bound or even retirees with limited mobility, it can be hard to access services while vacationing in San Pedro. The lack of wheelchair ramps at restaurants, resorts/hotels and public buildings; railings along pathways, stairs and swimming pools and designated handicap parking and crossing areas are just a few of the important things to consider when enhancing the tourism product for Ambergris Caye, especially when marketed as a retirement destination.

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