International Day of People with Disabilities.
The 3rd of December is the International Day of People with Disabilities. The observance of this day was first proclaimed in 1992 and it aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.
Right from the word go, the GSLP/Liberal government has given a focus on accessibility to people with disabilities that has not previously been seen in Gibraltar. The intention was very clear from the start with the introduction, for the first time ever, of a Minister with responsibility for Equality. In order to better understand the angle with which we have focused our efforts, we have taken into account the view that in order to make the lives of people with disabilities better, we have made the transition from a medical model to the social model. This means that we have to alter society’s views and physical aspects in order to be more inclusive instead of trying to medically help someone with a disability. This does not mean that if something can be done medically, it won’t be done.
We have to remember that not all disabilities are visually evident, the first thing we automatically seem to think of when we think of people with disabilities are people with mobility impairments and their wheelchairs. This is the stereotypical view and there are many other hidden disabilities which also need to be accounted for, for example hearing or visual impairments and learning disabilities like autism.
We will give examples of the different social changes that the current government has introduced in order to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The first sign that this government was taking inclusion seriously was the provision of a spectator stand for people with disabilities and a British Sign Language Interpreter at the Gibraltar National Day in 2012, these have been provided in National Day events ever since. Furthermore, designated areas at the 2013 Gibraltar Cavalcade were provided for the elderly and for people with disabilities and have been done since.
A major overhaul of Gibraltar’s beaches was undertaken during 2013. Beaches were made more accessible to people with mobility impairments with the introduction of different amenities and equipment which included pergolas with different amphibious equipment, mobility mats providing access from the pergolas directly to the shoreline, accessible toilets and changing rooms and most significantly, the introduction of changing places to name a few examples. Beach attendants were introduced in order to provide assistance with the use of the equipment and to assist with transfers to and from the beach equipment when users with disabilities wanted to bathe in the sea or pool in Camp Bay. These features have ensured that people with mobility impairments can also enjoy the experience of going to the beach and have a choice of different ones to go to.
Other adjustments which have been seen in the public domain which show collaborations with the private sector includes the sensory screenings at the Leisure Cinemas. Entertainment Captioning Glasses and headphones, to improve the entertainment experience of deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired audience members have also been provided at the Leisure Cinemas. Last year also saw the introduction of sensory performances to the Gibraltar International Magic Show programme; this was as a result of one of the organisers of the event attending one of the Ministry’s “Making Live Events Accessible” seminars.
2017 saw the introduction of the Easy Access Pass and Sensory Hours at the Gibraltar Fair. Due to sensory overloads from bright lights and loud noises which affect people with Autism and other disabilities, people affected by this and also their families, would avoid going to the fair. By having the sensory adjustments, many have been able to enjoy the fair for the first time ever. We have found that these adjustments have been very successful and evidence of this has been the excellent feedback received.
The most significant achievement has been the introduction of legislation to strengthen the position of people with disabilities. The 1992 Disabled People Act was found to be outdated and did not meet this government’s requirements for a modern inclusive society. A new Act was drafted and last year saw the much anticipated Disability Act (Agnes Law) being enacted. The act is modelled on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Even though the fundamental right of not being unfairly discriminated against is already enshrined in the constitution, the new act provides further safeguards and it also clarifies existing obligations.
The government also enacted the Building Rules Approved Document R this year. This legislation addresses all aspects of building and its aim is to improve accessibility to buildings and structures. This was a much needed piece of legislation to ensure that all new buildings and buildings being refurbished include provisions to make them more accessible.
In order to raise as much awareness as possible, to supplement the new legislation and to prepare government departments in meeting their obligations under the new legislation, the government has been organising training sessions in relation to making buildings, live events and businesses more accessible for a number of years for the public sector. Such training has also been made available to the private sector. A number of booklets have also been published which provide information on the new Document Part R Legislation, language and etiquette and also on improving accessibility at the workplace and welcoming customers with disabilities.
The government was also aware of the hunger for more information on learning disabilities and autism. For this reason it organised seminars for both the public and private sector and also for non-government organisations and sporting associations keen to improve their services to all their members.
It is clearly evident that the government has been working tirelessly to improve the lives of people with disabilities by making aspects of daily life more accessible and by raising awareness. In turn, we all have to be more conscious and considerate of the needs and requirements of others and we have to make society and the physical aspects of it, including our buildings, more accessible. Making Gibraltar a more inclusive society is something that is incumbent for all of us.
BY MINISTRY OF EQUALITY