Edition 1453
09 December 2017
Edition: 1453

Read this week's issue online exactly as it appears in print.

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Better services for disabled ‘a basic Human Right’

by Carrie-Marie Bratley, in News · 16-11-2017 13:45:00 · 2 Comments

It appears a new law introduced at the start of this year, which states six categories of citizens including the disabled must be given priority service in all establishments, is not being upheld as well as hoped, while those with limited mobility still struggle simply getting around on a daily basis.

Better services for disabled ‘a basic Human Right’

In recent years, Portugal has made significant investment in transforming itself into an “accessible destination.”
Over 200 beaches along the coast are now branded “accessible”, and boast specialised infrastructures and equipment, such as amphibious wheelchairs, reserved parking and adapted toilet facilities, for those with reduced mobility.
National airport management company ANA says all Portuguese airports have specially-adapted facilities and services for the disabled, while the national tourism board has drawn up disabled-friendly routes for tourists.
The Algarve is also home to Europe’s only specialist holiday centre for people with special needs, Centre Algarve.

Greater awareness needed
However, it seems more could still be done at a grassroots level to improve the daily routines and comfort of the country’s physically-impaired.
British expat Kate Inácio, who has lived in the Algarve for nine years, knows first-hand the struggles faced by those with disabilities, and their carers.
Her six-year-old son Marley suffers from a number of medical problems, including muscular dystrophy and a congenital bone condition, which severely affect his mobility, leaving him wheelchair-bound.
Ms. Inácio says: “I have come to discover that there are many obstacles in the Algarve and not enough awareness is being raised; a small example being I take Marley on the train twice a week to receive treatment, and not one train in the Algarve has a disability ramp. You must call 24 hours ahead and only a couple of stations even have a ramp”, she points out.
Other challenges, Ms. Inácio says, besides basic accessibility and public transport, include “costs for everything related to his care, therapies, government help, social services (non-existent really for this kind of thing), understanding of certain disabilities, especially tolerance for autism, Asperger etc, and finding activities or places suitable for wheelchairs”.
The system, not money, is the problem
This is corroborated by Portimão resident, Gilberta Coelho, 55, who was left tetraplegic following a car crash in 2010.
Widely known across the Algarve as ‘Gill Ferreira’ from the Quinta da Gill riding school in Porches, Ms. Coelho says the main problem regarding mobility in Portugal isn’t funding, “it’s the system as a whole”.
She says those who are in charge of public works, “the engineers and the architects”, do not consult with those who live with physical impairments.
A key area that needs improvement, she reiterates, echoing Kate Inácio’s observations, is public transport, and not just trains and stations.
“The vai-vem [shuttle buses] in Portimão have vertiginous ramps, and the drivers are ill-prepared” to help with the needs of the disabled, she says.
Ms. Coelho stresses an adapted taxi in the region would also make “an enormous difference”.
Besides two specially-adapted vehicles in Faro, “there are no adapted taxis in the Algarve”, she criticises, meaning she often feels “confined to the house”.
Another area overlooked is public infrastructures, she adds, highlighting Portimão’s new state-run health centre as an example.
“The ramps were only built after its inauguration and the doors don’t comply with regulations, meaning whenever I go there I have to ask a security guard to open the door for me. In my view that’s not being autonomous”, she criticises.
Pavements are another bone of contention, as, Ms Coelho elaborates, often the kerbs do not have mobility slopes, or if they do, they are too steep.
“I’m risking my life by having to use the road all the time”, she adds.

Complaints continue to mount
Her comments come as reports emerged this week that the government has no idea how many buildings in Portugal are adequately adapted for the disabled and people with reduced mobility.
Newspaper Jornal de Notícias reported never have there been as many complaints about limitations in access to public buildings and places as there were in 2016, which had doubled on 2015.
In recent months, The Portugal News has also received correspondence on the new priority service law, introduced in January, with a number of readers claiming that the law is not being properly enforced.
One angry reader, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “My husband has been in a wheelchair for months and not once have we been shown any priority in any of the shops or cafés we frequent.”
While also accentuating the problem of potholes on zebra crossings, the contributor added: “I suggest the law is scrapped as it is a total waste of time.”
This was echoed by an 80-year-old resident from Castro Marim, who said: “I walk with the aid of a stick and only on one occasion have I been shown this courtesy.”

Public transport struggles
In comments to The Portugal News, the President of the national Portuguese Association for the Disabled (APD) reflected: “The participation of people with disabilities in society depends to a large extent on the possibility of moving around as autonomously as possible. In Portugal, this mobility is almost totally compromised due to the inaccessibility of public transport and physical spaces.”
Highlighting a number of measures that have yet to be implemented in their entirety to facilitate the autonomy of those with reduced mobility, which affects an estimated 30 percent of the population, the association stressed that “these measures have an audience worthy of consideration”.
In Greater Lisbon, just half of the Carris bus fleet is adapted for the disabled, while only 30 of the 55 Metro subway stations have lifts. However, complaints of lifts being out of order or bus ramps not working are frequent and well documented.
In June last year, seven disabled public transport passengers staged a protest in Lisbon (pictured) in which they managed to stop a Carris bus from following its route, due to the bus’s wheelchair ramp being out of order.
The action aimed to make Carris aware of the “constant” breaking down of wheelchair ramps on its buses, and the mobility difficulties that wheelchair-bound passengers face.
The APD continued: “With regards to rail transport, a large number of CP trains operate with ramps but they have a ridiculous slope (given the difference between the carriage and boarding dock) which does not allow safe and autonomous use.”

“Improvements ongoing”
In response to queries posed by The Portugal News, train company CP said it has “developed several initiatives” in collaboration with half a dozen associations for people with disabilities and special needs in recent years, “to improve the conditions of accessibility to trains”, specifically for boarding and disembarking.
CP is responsible for equipment on trains and not at the stations themselves, as that falls to national infrastructures company Infraestruturas de Portugal.
CP implemented a dedicated service (the SIM service - Integrated Mobility Service) to support the train travel of disabled citizens, “where resources are available”.
The SIM service is free and available at all stations equipped for wheelchairs, albeit only with 24-hour prior request, as Kate Inácio cautions, and not at all stations.
Furthermore, while the high-speed Alfapendular train has an elevator for wheelchair access (upon request), the Intercidades train does not, “due to the width of its doors”, CP said.
Lisbon’s urban train line (with the exception of Cascais) and Porto’s urban train line both have removable ramps, but once again only upon prior request.
Another of the APD’s gripes is school transport, which it says is not appropriately adapted for children in wheelchairs, nor does it have the means of providing information to the visually-impaired or deaf.
APD elaborated: “Infrastructures such as schools, hospitals and health centres continue to provide access alternatives with poor effectiveness and functionality. They do not have personalised services or qualified staff for this purpose.”
Touching upon the new priority law, the APD sees it as “a starting point” to “re-educate our society, to ensure that people with high mobility difficulties can be seen straight away.”
But, the association concludes, “social inclusion depends (…) on the possibility for disabled people to have full access to all available equipment, goods and services. It is a basic Human Right that the State must uphold.”

Comments

Aforesaid new law is really follows a basic human rights. Great. I am from Bangladesh.By profession I am a lawyer. I am diagnosed with cancer in the year 2o11.I am still struggling to survive.I`ve lost my speech and my profession by this severe disease. I am tied to poverty. But sorry to say there are no any law as well as any kind of charity which will help me.No doubt Portugal is an instance of this globe.
by Enamul Kabir Khan from Other on 17-11-2017 03:49:00
I live in Madeira and the biggest single obstacle for the disabled is the widespread parking of cars on the footpaths, making it absolutely impossible for wheelchair users and difficult for anyone with reduced mobility. This can be solved at no cost - indeed, extra revenue from fines!!
by Valerie Condliffe from Madeira on 17-11-2017 12:13:00

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Edition 1453
09 December 2017
Edition: 1453

Read this week's issue online exactly as it appears in print.

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