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May 20, 2004

Bz. City: a tough place for disabled

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This week has been set aside for observance as Disability Week. But when you must live with a disability of your own, every week is disability week. This morning I joined a number of Belizeans with disabilities for a demonstration of just what they face in making their way through the old capital.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

Nine-year-old David Glenford Belisle started using his white cane a year ago. Belisle, who suffers from a brain tumour, is still learning how to navigate the city’s streets without getting into trouble. It’s just one of many challenges disabled persons in Belize confront on a daily basis.

Hector Hoare, White Cane User

“I could remember about a year and half ago while I was getting off the bus and attempting to cross the street on King Street thereabout, and up came this car around the corner, not even noticing that I was crossing the street, and just missed me by couple inches. I had to put out my cane so that the driver could stop the car.”

According to The Belize Council for the Visually Impaired and CARE Belize, such incidents happen because motorists and cyclists do not know about the white cane rule and what they should do when they see a disabled person trying to cross the street.

Carla Ayres, Public Relations Officer, B.C.V.I.

“A lot of people don?t know for example that when a person with a cane, a blind or visually impaired person, has their cane extended with the white tip pointing out into the street, that means they want to cross. Most of the time people won?t stop for people, but they don?t necessarily know that this is an actual sign that he or she would like to cross the street.”

This morning, Hector Hoare, David Belisle, and their colleagues gathered at Queen Street, one of the city?s busiest crossings, to sensitize drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists about the need to respect the handicapped. While things went smoothly due to help from traffic officers, it?s clear that there would have been some tragedies or near misses without the presence of any authority.

Councillor Danny Madrid, Belize City Traffic Department

“Drivers believe they have the right to the road and I think it?s the opposite. It?s a privilege to drive, and that?s the reason why we believe that this exercise is needed, because a lot of drivers do not respect the elderly, do not respect the visually impaired, and they have no respect for the laws. So believe that this is necessary to be done; not only with this, but any other aspects of driving laws.”

There is a law under which motorists can be fined fifty dollars for not giving way to pedestrians at a crossing, and at the same time be charged an addition fifty for obstructing the free flow of pedestrians. Councillor Danny Madrid says the Traffic Department has embarked on an educational campaign to make drivers more aware of their responsibility.

Councillor Danny Madrid

“Post every week different laws of the city, different laws regarding to traffic, so that when you are in the Traffic Department you can read, and a following week we will have another sign up, and eventually what we are going to do to put up a video with a monitor, television, and everyday when you are there you can read about the different traffic laws.”

Belisle and Hoare agree that there is a need for more awareness. They say all they want motorists and cyclists to do is to give them that opportunity to walk safely around Belize City.

Jacqueline Woods

“Does it get scary when you have to cross the street?”

David Belisle, White Cane User

?No miss.?

Jacqueline Woods

“Who taught you how to use your cane?”

David Belisle

?Mr. Hoare.?

Jacqueline Woods

“And how do you use it when you walk on the street?”

(Taps cane)

Jacqueline Woods

“So when you need to cross the street and you know it?s very busy, there is a lot of traffic, you don?t get scared.?

David Belisle, White Cane User

?Yes ma?am.?

Hector Hoare, White Cane User

“Sometimes I would come across some people who are generous, or kind, and let me pass. And other people I will have to stand there and wait until there is a break in the flow of traffic to cross.”

The exercise was held as part of disabilities week observed from Sunday, May sixteenth to Saturday, May twenty-second.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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