Thu, Aug 19, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Groups call for improved accessibility for disabled

ONLY IN THEIR DREAMS:Taiwan lags other developed countries in wheelchair accessibility. For its 1 million people with disabilities, the simplest task can be tough

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Despite the growing interest in outdoor activities and government efforts to improve hiking and cycling facilities, such pursuits remain a faraway dream for many people with disabilities.

“Some things may be easy for people without a handicap, but for those who are physically challenged, they are rife with difficulties,” said Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如), who organized a public hearing on accessibility at public places.

Chen, whose son has multiple mental and physical disabilities, said her son’s difficulties in doing such seemingly simple things as exiting the Taipei Railway Station and taking a shower in a hotel were in evidence during a trip to Kaohsiung last week.

“The hotel we stayed at — a top-class hotel, whose name I’m not going to disclose — does not have any accessible rooms [for individuals with disabilities],” Chen said. “He couldn’t even take a shower on his own because there were no facilities to accommodate people in his condition.”

When they returned to Taipei on the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) and needed to go through areas administered by the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) at the Taipei Railway Station, Chen found that the elevator was shut down.

“We asked THSR employees for help. They said the elevator was under the TRA’s jurisdiction, so they couldn’t do anything about it,” she said. “Only after I told TRA employees I’m a lawmaker did they finally turn the elevator on.”

Chen’s isn’t an isolated case.

Association of Spinal Cord Injury Taipei member Huang Hsin-yi (黃欣儀), who relies on a wheelchair, said there are road blocks at the entrances of most hiking and cycling trails in national parks and scenic areas.

“They said the road blocks are there to prevent scooters from entering, but they also block wheelchairs,” Huang said.

When her organization took a group of about 40 people on wheelchairs to a hiking trail along the northeastern coast, she said, “volunteers, and even coast guard members, had to carry the wheelchairs over the road blocks.”

Liu Chun-lin (劉俊麟), a father of two children who need wheelchairs, said it was no small irony that his children could only move around without trouble when abroad.

Last year, Liu and his wife took their children to Japan, and this year they visited Austria and Switzerland.

“Public facilities in those countries are quite mindful of people with disabilities,” Liu said. “Though Taiwan is a developed country, we need more than just economic development.”

“There are so many scenic areas around the country, but for those who are physically challenged, they can only visit those places in their dreams,” Access for All in Taiwan project manager Chen Ming-li (陳明里) said at the hearing.

Ministry of the Interior figures show that there are more than 1 million people with disabilities in Taiwan, with as many as 36 percent of senior citizens having physical disabilities because of age, he said.

“These people are just like any other citizens. They deserve more from the government,” Chen Ming-li said.

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