When I went with my boyfriend to renew his Saint Lucian passport in downtown Castries, we climbed five flights of stairs to get to the top. Taking the elevator would have still left us with one or two flights of stairs to get to the office where passports are issued. Public buildings in Saint Lucia still leave a lot to be desired when it comes to accessibility. If it isn’t ramps positioned at 75 degree angles, it’s a lack of elevators or proper accommodations for physically disabled people.
If you suffer from mobility issues in the Caribbean, expect to be excluded from many aspects of functioning independently. While community and family support does exist in the Caribbean, the dependence on others created by the inaccessibility of many public services (as well as proper health care) means that those who have issues with mobility are left in a vulnerable position.
We know that many disabled women face abuse because of their disabilities. Men prey on women they believe to be weaker, more vulnerable and less likely to fight back. When our society refuses to accommodate women with mobility issues, they may be forced to depend on abusers in order to make ends meet. Younger women may be unable to attend school, especially with illnesses like fibromyalgia. Our society puts women with mobility issues at a disadvantage, while scapegoating responsibility by half-assing ramps and elevators around the country.
(Note: Some elevators are hardly big enough for two people, far less wheelchairs)
The cost of medical care for women with decreased mobility is another factor that oppresses the disabled in our society by denying them equal access to services that would improve the quality of life. Those who do not share the same needs as able-bodied folks are left behind. If we aim to create an equal society, we need to examine the impact that ableism has on a structural level. In this case, I mean this literally. The way we build our communities and the way we construct physical structures should not be done in such a way that excludes disabled people from our communities.
We need to break free from the capitalist notion that people’s “utilitarianism” is what determines their value. We need to value everyone in our society equally and work on a structural change that increases accessibility for all.