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May 30, 2003

Blind pedestrians appeal to motorists

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If you were driving in Belize City Thursday morning, you may have noticed a special group of pedestrians trying to compete with the cell phone, radio and traffic jams for your attention. Jacqueline Woods explains.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

On May thirty-first, 1997 twenty-seven year old Ricardo Lopez was viciously attacked by another man after a night of partying. Lopez, who is from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, suffered serious injuries to his eyes that left him totally blind.

Ricardo Lopez, Blind

“I don’t know if they got they got confused me with someone else, but I got attacked and I got chopped on my eyes; I think with a machete.”

It took Lopez some time to adjust to his condition, but six years later, he is now able to get around with the use of the white cane.

Hector Hoare, Blind

“For the first it was very difficult, but with the help of people I had overcome that difficulty and today I have learnt to accept it and live with it, so it’s kind of easy for me now to go through life this way.”

Forty-five year old Hector Hoare is no stranger to Belize City. Hoare, who is the president of the young advocacy group for the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired, eventually lost his sight at the age of seventeen years old following an injury to his right eye when he was only a baby.

Hector Hoare

“When I was two years old, I got stick in my right eye with a knife. And then I was able to go through primary school with that one eye, until the age of seventeen when I lost the other eye. I had a friend and he had a bamboo in his hand and he throw the bamboo towards me and the bamboo caught me in my left eye and so that is how I am blind.”

Although Lopez and Hoare have made great strides to manage their disability, they are appealing to motorists to respect the white cane and make the streets a safer place for them. On Tuesday, Hoare says he had just gotten off a bus when he was almost hit by a car after the driver failed to stop.

Hector Hoare

“I was crossing the street and I was in the middle of the street and up come this car, almost caused an accident. I never did say anything to him, I just continued on my way.”

To make drivers more aware of the white cane and what they should do when they come upon a visually impaired person, Hoare, Lopez and a B.C.V.I. team went around to various busy locations in the city. We caught up with the group on Amara Avenue

Joan Samuels, Rehabilitation Coordinator, B.C.V.I.

“The purpose of this exercise today, and we are doing it in conjunction with Disability Week, to help drivers to realize that they are all besides normal persons, they are persons with disabilities using the streets. So it’s an awareness programme to help drivers understand when they see a visually impaired person or a person in a wheelchair at the street corner or anywhere on the street needing to cross, to please allow them passage because it’s their right as a member of the community to be able to use the roads safely.”

B.C.V.I.’s Rehabilitation Coordinator, Joan Samuels, says they train the visually impaired to manage their disability to the point where they can get around on their own.

Joan Samuels

“We start them off using sighted guide, that is where they are holding on to a person and then later on we take them by places, we choose the route that is safe, teach them traffic patterns, the hours of the day when the traffic is heavy, the holes in the road, how the use the cane to locate, street, sounds, smells that will tell them where they are going. And then at the end of a three or three and a half months period, we leave them independent to see how well they perform.”

Samuels says there are a total of eight persons who use the white cane countrywide. However, that number is expected to increase in September as children who are visually impaired are scheduled to enrol in primary schools. Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

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