Several disability rights groups yesterday urged the government to provide a safe environment for people with physical disabilities, citing a recent tragedy in which a wheelchair user and his wife were killed in a traffic accident in Chiayi.
The couple were forced to use a motorcycle lane because the sidewalk was overrun with shrubs and bushes, and were hit by a motorbike when doing so, the groups said at a press conference hosted by the League of Welfare Organizations for the Disabled and Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如).
“Similar tragedies happen all the time. A set of guidelines that regulates the construction of accessible sidewalks was put into effect in 2009 [by the Construction and Planning Agency], but the government is still building walkways hazardous to disabled people,” said Liu Chin-chung (劉金鐘), a representative from the league.
The advocates said that sidewalks, crosswalks, bridges and other pedestrian areas contain many hazards and barriers to a disabled person’s mobility. The most common problems people with disabilities face include sidewalks without curb ramps or clogged with parked motorcycles and bicycles, shops and impassable designs, Liu said.
For example, instead of being fan-shaped, curb ramps often have steep edges that make wheelchair tilt and turn over, Liu said.
Shih Yung-mu (施雍穆), chairman of the Association of Spinal Cord Injury, said that as a wheelchair-user, he finds it hard to travel through Taipei.
“Oftentimes, you have a curb ramp on one side of the sidewalk, but when you reach the other end, there is none. So you have to turn back. Sometimes, curb ramps simply become parking lots for motorcycles,” Shih said. “None of us want to share the street with motorists, but there is no accessible sidewalk for us to use. What’s worse, when accidents happen, we are the ones who have to take the blame.”
Before an amendment to Article 78 of the Act Governing the Punishment of Violation of Road Traffic Regulations (道路交通管理處罰條例) was passed by the legislature in May last year, if disabled people used mobility equipment in car lanes, their actions were punishable by law.
“It meant that if we got hit by a car, we were liable for damages to the driver,” Lin said.
However, even though an amendment that allows people with disabilities to use car lanes when accessible sidewalks are not available was passed a year ago, police officers nationwide have yet to implement it, Chen said.
Others said it was the government’s responsibility to build a safe pedestrian environment.
“The government has made laws and regulations, but it never seriously supervises the implementation of policies,” said Lin Chin-chuan (林錦川), of the Eden Social Welfare Foundation.
On an April evening in 2005, wheelchair-user Lin decided to return home in Sanchong (三重) from Taipei via the Zhongxiao Bridge (忠孝橋). Since the pedestrian walkway on the bridge offers no curb ramps for disabled people, Lin was forced to take the motorcycle lane.