By: Daniella Jade Lowe
On December 3, 2020, I was a panelist for a Virtual Conference hosted by the WindReach in Bermuda. This virtual conference was held in honour of ‘International Day of People with Disabilities’.
Due to COVID-19, but even before, the needs and voices of People Living with Disabilities were often not made a priority in our social world, in our workplaces, in our schools or even in their own care and goals. Focusing our main topics of understanding on the history of disability, employment, accessibility, stigma, people’s misperceptions, and encouraging self-advocacy, we hope to address many of the issues facing Bermudians living with disabilities.
This conference is meant to shine a light on the disability community as a whole, give space for their voices to be heard and to work on solutions to better the lives of all individuals. Everyone benefits when we collectively move towards a more inclusive society. There were ASL interpreters present throughout the whole conference. It was well organised and things went smoothly.
During the conference, I shared the subject of Disability & Accessibility in Bermuda (Panel) alongside Chris Bulley, Vince Godber from Vision Bermuda & Keith Simmons.
This discussion was between Panelists on the state of accessibility in Bermuda, what are the issues facing individuals accessing public and private establishments, transportation, and health care from an access perspective. Examine what laws are in place to address this, how they are used and how we can move forward to create a more accessible Bermuda.
I also discussed how I’ve explored the option of marketing myself as an Access Consultant, and how we could do with more in Bermuda.
I have always advocated and written articles on the subject of Wheelchair Accessibility, especially while growing up in Bermuda. This has been a longstanding issue in Bermuda, at least since 2006. I’ve even attended a ‘Brown Bag Lunch’ with Bermuda’s former Premier Dr. Ewart Brown, to discuss subjects like Wheelchair Accessibility amongst other things.
During Middle School and High School, I used a Garaventa StairTrac for navigating the school for classes. https://www.garaventalift.com/en/products/portable-lift-evacuation-chair/stairtrac.html.
Accessibility can be viewed as the “ability to access” and benefit from some system or entity. The concept often focuses on people with disabilities or special needs (such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and their right of access, enabling the use of assistive technology.
Bermuda is not wheelchair-friendly. But in the City of Hamilton, some roads have disabled-friendly sidewalks. Bermuda’s sidewalks are often very busy with pedestrians, can be steep, are not always on both sides of the road and traffic on the main road between sidewalks is often dense. It is a very hilly, with few flat places, not good for disabled people confined to a wheelchair who are not accompanied by a spouse or caregiver with the strength to lift them. Main roads are very narrow and almost always busy during the weekday especially. There are now sidewalks with sloping ramps uniformly throughout the most frequently traveled tourism and international business areas of the city. The Town of St. George is slowly improving. It is semi-rural. http://www.bermuda-online.org/disabledinBermuda.htm.
Wheelchair Accessibility and mobility issues are additional problems that wheelchair users face daily. I experienced this many times in Bermuda, especially at school. Access alleviates the amount of limitations and restrictions on wheelchair users. Failing to ensure wheelchair accessibility is neglecting to provide reasonable adjustments. It is like functioning in dysfunction. Fortunately AccessAdvisr helps to tackle this in England. I still think that people must be mindful.
Accessibility Consultation and Disability Services (ADS) provides inspections, assessment, and consultations for accessibility requirements like ramps, door sizes, for new buildings and renovations. The purpose of this service is to help ensure and promote accessibility for all. The Accessibility Officer reviews planning applications, upon the request of the Department of Planning or the applicant, to help ensure buildings meet accessibility requirements. For more information about the Building Codes in Bermuda visit The Department of Planning Website: https://www.gov.bm/accessibility-consultation.
The Department of Planning has Building Control. Building Control consults with other government agencies, reviews building permit applications for compliance with Building Codes and may require professional engineer certification of structures before issuance of building permits.
Building Control building and electrical inspectors visit the sites where construction is underway to inspect work and determine if work is in accordance with the planning approval and the building permit. It is the responsibility of the property owner to ensure inspections are requested and the owner may be required to obtain a professional engineer certification of works which have not been inspected. Requests for Certificates of Completion/Occupancy, whether partial or final, must be made in writing: https://planning.gov.bm/index.php/building-control/.
Additionally, Bermuda businesses are taking steps to improve accessibility. In 2019, Bermuda joined the UK’s business initiative called ‘Purple Tuesday’. Companies and individuals can register in advance using an online form or can speak with accessibility advocates in Hamilton, where sign-up details are taken in-person and additional information is available.
This initiative is part of a National Tourism Plan effort to ensure Bermuda becomes a more accessible destination for people with disabilities, an effort that will not only set the island apart but also benefit Bermudians, too.
Some of these businesses include:
• Ambiance Bermuda
• Benedict Associates
• Bermuda Connections
• City of Hamilton
• Dolphin Quest
• Grotto Bay Beach Resort
• Hamilton Princess Hotel & Beach Club
• Lifestyles Co. Ltd.
• Utopia Eatery
• Department of Workforce Development
Bermuda is really trying their best. On Thursday, November 26, 2020, a new pathway at St. Peter’s Church was created to make grave access for wheelchair users: https://bernews.com/2020/11/photos-st-peters-grave-access/.
Alternatively, England even has an Access Rating Phone app, created by Mark Esho, Rich Copson, Martyn Sibley and Jignesh Vaidya. England seems to take Access Consultancy really seriously: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/raising-accessibility-standards-for-new-homes?fbclid=IwAR2K2mgbtIWzzJm5NIHIvJEnjjuNTaXla4KeBVe6K16IncPmAmTLNVoWHDs.
The subject of Access also affects the visually impaired too. Public places must be accessible for them too, especially if they have little or no access to guide dogs. https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/how-you-can-help/campaigning/our-current-campaigns/access-all-areas. Vision Bermuda does this: https://visionbermuda.bm/community/advocacy.html. This is the most common ‘blind spot’ today.
According to the British Government website, anyone can apply for a dropped kerb in England (https://www.gov.uk/apply-dropped-kerb).
However, I get really annoyed with drivers who park across dropped kerbs. Dropped kerbs are meant to make it easy for wheelchairs to enter and exit sidewalks. Some drivers even park on top of the sidewalks blocking the walkway. We need to clamp down on this with a fine both in the UK and Bermuda.
One solution to resolve this is through installing ramps and lifts.
Did you know that ramps originated in Greece?
Having this event is one good way to make some noise about Wheelchair Accessibility. The purpose of this virtual conference is to find a common ground on this relentless issue so that we can move forward together as a community. Finding a solution might mean compromising things for the greater good to move Bermuda forward.
But we need more help. We need more allies, pressure groups, focus groups and need to get more people with disabilities in Parliament and The Human Rights Commission.
I am very thankful and happy that I was given the opportunity to be a panelist for this virtual conference. I hope this virtual conference can encourage positive change and bring about a ‘new reality’ for disabled Bermudians and disabled tourists.
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