By Shermain Bique-Charles
The country’s hurricane shelters have come under fire for not catering to the needs of disabled people.
President of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Persons Living with Disabilities, Bernard Warner, claims none of the shelters designated for use in an emergency are suitable for differently abled residents – and he is calling on the government to fix the issue.
Warner said the wet and windy weather experienced over the past 48 hours had further exposed the vulnerability of his members.
He told Observer yesterday that many disabled people are living in homes that cannot withstand even mildly adverse weather conditions. And some, he said, are amputees, deaf, blind or paralysed.
“We need to identify shelters that are designed to cater for people with disabilities because many disabled people cannot walk or move around normally. They need to know that in case of disasters they are going to be transported to proper facilities that can cater for them,” Warner explained.
He claimed a number of disabled people had applied to the Home Advancement Programme for the Indigent (HAPI) for assistance and had not received a favourable response for some years.
The HAPI programme was started in November 2016 and focuses on repairing low-income homes to improve access to decent and safe housing.
“They have applied and never received assistance as yet. We are still in the hurricane season and a number of our members are concerned about their homes,” he said.
Warner said he had reached out to the Ministry of Social Transformation to set up a meeting to discuss getting help for vulnerable people as the stormy season nears its peak.
He said members of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) are expected to be part of the tentative meeting.
“I will be lobbying with them to ensure disabled people are part of the GPS mapping system that is currently being implemented, to help find them even in the dark of night and when we have disaster,” he explained.
However, NODS Director Philmore Mullin is giving early indications that Warner’s request is not possible.
He said the facilities being used for shelters are schools, churches and other buildings that were not created as shelters.
“It is not possible. If it was purpose-built shelters, those considerations would have been taken in the planning stages but the buildings currently used are built for other purposes. This is a challenge,” he said.
Mullin said the matter would have to be discussed with the government since it would require a special building to be constructed.
“It is a major challenge even with that, since all the disabled people are scattered all around the country,” he explained.
“I don’t have the authority to interfere with any of these buildings to accommodate the disabled. There needs to be a discussion with all stakeholders,” Mullin further advised.
Warner said he has also had discussions on the sidelines with the recently appointed Social Transformation Minister Dean Jonas about revisiting laws to make life easier for disabled people in Antigua and Barbuda. Jonas was in parliament yesterday and could not be reached for comment.