In 2012, I suffered a spin class injury and used a fracture boot and crutches for several weeks. Back then I worked at the local Division of Ageing, which was on the second floor of a building in downtown, Port of Spain. There was no elevator, ramps or escalators. It took the help of my mom and almost 20 minutes of gymnast manoeuvring for me to climb two flights of stairs up to my office each morning. But my inadequate office wasn’t the only challenge. Manoeuvring the sidewalks was risky, as there are few ramps or crosswalks in the capital. On one occasion I was straight up refused entry into a very popular bar, as management was afraid that I would hurt myself in what was not only an inaccessible but a dangerous environment for differently abled persons.
The experience completely opened my eyes to the lack of physical infrastructure nation-wide for persons with limited mobility. I noticed for example that City Gate, the capital’s bus terminal, had no elevators either and was largely inaccessible for differently-abled persons. I began to understand why I rarely, if ever, saw older persons with walkers or wheelchairs out and about. Our city’s lack of simple infrastructure like lifts, ramps and regular crosswalks made it almost impossible for them to participate in public, daily life. This is an increasingly troubling observation, considering that our over 60 population currently stands at 12%, according to the Central Statistical Office (2010). The number of persons who may soon be excluded from something as simple as visiting the capital keeps rising, yet our country’s attention to a more inclusive environment remains stagnant.
Imagine how impressed I was upon landing in London, UK and seeing public transport buses with built in wheelchair lifts and signs indicating which tube stations had elevator access. I almost dropped when I noticed that almost every elevator and traffic crossing was outfitted with brail for the visually impaired. Inclusivity was clearly something that city planners and transport workers had taken into account, far more so than back home in the Caribbean.
It’s certainly not for a lack of resources, since Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest Caribbean nations and has been for some time. We also have an incredible pool of qualified personnel like architects and engineers who I’m sure would be able to take on the task of building a more age-friendly environment. Yet it does not seem to take priority in the public or private spheres. Perhaps we are not fully aware of the potential benefits of making sure that all of our people can conduct economic and social activities. Or maybe our culture simply does not yet grasp the importance of inclusivity. Either way, with an increasing over 60 population, it may be time to play catch up.
Consultant, Age Caribbean