Front Porch | Promoting equality, opportunity and civility: People with disabilities
We live in a highly materialistic society in which many of us measure our self-worth by our possessions, ranging from the vehicles we drive to the brand-name clothes which adorn our perfumed accents, bodies and privileges.
We often measure supposed sophistication and social standing by the possessions we accumulate, instead of the possessions of mind and heart and spirit, such as the books we read, the quality of our community service and our commitment to fairness and equality, including people with disabilities.
Despite appearances of sophistication and pseudo-civility, supposedly exemplified by our material trappings, we are a much less civil and refined society than many of us imagine.
True civility is not marked by external trappings. True civility is marked by habits of the heart and behavioral norms, which respond to the needs and rights of fellow-citizens, out of both natural empathy and self-interest. We should treat others the way we want ourselves and our loved ones to be treated.
There appears to be little correlation between the preponderance of luxury and new vehicles on our roads, and the degree to which quite a number of motorists adhere to various traffic laws, including refraining from parking in spaces reserved for the disabled and the handicapped.
The government has stepped up the enforcement of traffic laws, and is tracking down those who have outstanding tickets for various traffic violations.
Some who owed a fine forgot, and happily paid the fine when reminded. Quite a number of others, who are now forced to pay outstanding fines, readily admit that they never intended to pay. They were happy to rely on a lack of enforcement and the slack order that often pervades our society.
Even as the government is enforcing other traffic and vehicular laws, laws on parking in spaces reserved for people with disabilities should be reviewed, with appropriate fines and penalties for those who disregard such laws.
Reportedly, the government is in the process of updating various regulations and laws relating to parking in spaces for people with disabilities.
Accompanying such laws and regulations, there should be an ongoing media campaign, including on social media, as well as in schools.
The depth of civility in a society is marked by our respect and treatment of others who often face discrimination, whether because of gender, sexual orientation or disability.
Surprisingly, despite legislation passed to improve access to services and buildings for people with disabilities, many private businesses and entities have not even provided basic amenities such as reserved spaces. This is glaring and relatively easy to remedy for many institutions.
While some institutions actively ensure that reserved spaces are closely monitored by security personnel, other institutions take a more lax, and sometimes indifferent approach.
As they have done for some time, disability advocates should continue to push high-profile and highly trafficked businesses to better monitor reserved spaces. The activism and advocacy of people with disabilities and disability advocates is essential.
At one popular grocery store in western New Providence, the monitoring of spaces for people with disabilities depends on the security on duty.
Some security guards carefully monitor reserved spaces, going so far as to place crates in the spaces to prohibit individuals without disabilities from parking in the reserved spaces.
Some security personnel ignore people without disabilities who cavalierly pull into these spaces because they are too slack or too lazy to park elsewhere.
The argument of many of these entitled drivers is, “I’ll only be a minute”, which, of course, is nonsense. It is an excuse for slackness, typically used by drivers who block in, or inconvenience other drivers.
The underlying mindset: My time and needs are more important than yours. You will just have to wait until I’m done.
Were the roles reversed, those who often inconvenience others, would go ballistic and become indignant and righteous were they inconvenienced.
This columnist, like many Bahamians, has witnessed the anger and annoyance of such self-absorbed and selfish drivers when they are asked to park elsewhere. It is as if such spaces are reserved for them: “To hell with those with disabilities. My needs and convenience take preference.”
Some drivers appear not to even realize that the reserved spaces are strictly for people with disabilities. A friend recalls a driver pulling into a space reserved for people with disabilities despite there be an adjacent unreserved spot.
The self-absorbed driver did not want to be inconvenienced by being two spots away from the grocery store door. He wanted to be just one spot away.
Institutions with reserved spaces should ensure that their security personnel operate in a uniform manner.
In the U.S., motorists are usually self-governing in terms of not parking in spaces reserved for people with disabilities. This has become a strong social norm, reinforced by the high probability of a stiff fine or other penalties for parking in a reserved space without a disability sticker.
While this column is primarily concerned with ensuring access to parking spaces for people with disabilities, there are obviously other pressing concerns for people with disabilities.
On its website, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities outlines the rights of people with disabilities.
The website notes: “As a person with a disability you have rights that are protected under the law. If you are a caregiver of a person with a disability, your dependent has these same rights which include: ‘The right to be treated with dignity and respect, free from discrimination; the right to equal access to opportunities for suitable employment, as well as equal access to training, education and healthcare services; the right to a barrier-free and disabled-friendly environment enabling you to access buildings, social amenities, transportation and services; and the right, upon request, to be assisted by a person of your choice in voting in parliamentary elections or referendums.”
A brochure by the Secretariat of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, entitled, “Tips for businesses and other places accessed by the public” notes the “Obligations of business owners and operators of other places which the public is permitted to access:”
The brochure states: “The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act, 2014, prohibits places to which the public is permitted access from discriminating against persons with disabilities.
“‘Persons with Disabilities’ means persons with a long-term disability including physical, mental, intellectual, developmental or sensory impairments and other health-related illnesses which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
The brochure offers advice to businesses and institutions, including: “Become familiar with the act and know what is expected of you; help educate your employees on your company’s responsibilities to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities; treat your customers with disabilities with the same courtesy, respect and fairness that you would treat your other customers.
“Ensure that persons with disabilities can access your premises (including your restrooms), and easily use your services; ensure that parking spaces for disabled drivers are closest to your entrances, and that they are clearly marked and monitored.”
We enhance the civility and humanity of our society by a greater commitment to how we treat our fellow-citizens with respect for their human dignity; not by the greater accumulation of material goods, toys and trinkets, which typically make us less responsive to the basic human and spiritual needs of each other, especially those in greatest need of our advocacy, and our collective voice and responsibility.