by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- Almost 14% of Grenada’s population has some form of disability
- Lack of accessible buildings and sidewalks for people with visual impairment remains a challenge
Damian Prince, Hazel-Ann Bishop, and Althea Duncan, all visually impaired massage therapists at the Soothing Touch Four Senses Massage Clinic, consider themselves fortunate to earn a living despite their disability.
They believe there are major hurdles that people living with disabilities face in Grenada which prevent them from gainful employment, from being able to safely manoeuvre streets and sidewalks, or when accessing public buildings and spaces.
According to the 2011 Grenada Population and Housing census, almost 14% of Grenada’s population has some form of disability.
Prince said navigating through cluttered busy environments and accessing buildings as a visually impaired person, is still a major barrier to having a normal life, since there is an apparent lack of accessible buildings and sidewalks for people with visual impairment which remains a challenge for the visually impaired in Grenada.
Like so many other people with disabilities, there are many challenges when accessing public buildings, including the lack of wheelchair ramps, buildings without stairlifts, inaccessible toilets, and insufficient handicap parking spaces.
Prince, who has been employed at the Soothing Touch Four Senses Massage Clinic for the last 3 years, believes more can be done to properly accommodate people with visual impairment and other disabilities who wish to access certain public buildings. “New buildings that are going up need to have a ramp for people who have wheelchairs, or for people who have to use walking canes to be able to access the building. But new buildings are going up and they don’t even consider these things. In the 21st century age that we are living in, I think that should be a priority.”
He has called on the government through the Physical Planning Unit to ensure that new building structures adhere to modern building codes that consider the accessibility of buildings for people with disabilities. “I believe that the government can play its part because if they pass the law that any new building that is going up has to have that in their plan, I believe that will make a lot of difference in the lives of those living with disabilities,” Prince said.
Born in Soubise, St Andrew, Prince at the age of 7, lost his sight in his right eye, and over time due to the strain on his left eye caused it to deteriorate even after undergoing surgery. He said although he is passionate about his job as a massage therapist, he believes he is quite fortunate since a number of other people who have some form of disability are not able to live a fulfilled life and earn a living. “Many times, people with disabilities remain home without any hope. They don’t contribute to society and that is a problem.”
Hazel-Ann Bishop from St Mark, another visually impaired massage therapist, echoed Prince’s sentiments. For the past 24 years, Bishop’s loss of her sight due to developing glaucoma has not stopped her from earning a living, and she has worked at the Soothing Touch clinic for the past 16 years.
Bishop has great difficulty using public sidewalks due to parked cars and uneven damaged pavements, and encounters challenges accessing public transportation due to her disability. “I don’t know if there is anything they can do about the telephone poles near sidewalks, but it will be nice if they can remove the poles and put them to the side. At the end of some sidewalks there are step-downs instead of ramps where you can walk down, and I will like to see people stop parking their cars on the sidewalks because that is also a very big obstacle in the way.”
Duncan from Dougaldston, St John, agrees that more can be done to accommodate people with disabilities, but refuses to let her visual impairment hinder her from doing things herself. “People watch me and are amazed. They will always say that they like to see how I move about for myself. The most challenging thing that I face is financial,” she said.
Organisations such as Soothing Touch and White Cane Industries are among institutions where people with disabilities are given employment opportunities. But many people with disabilities complain of experiencing discrimination which ultimately affects their ability to get certain employment opportunities despite there being a commitment by the government to ensure equal opportunities for people with disabilities under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which was ratified in 2014.