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Understanding the plight of PWD athletes

  • Written by Lito Cinco
  • Published in Opinion
  • Read: 342

My five cents’ worth

WHETHER by chance or not, I just did a previous column on PWD athletes following the recent winning by table tennis player Josephine Medina of a bronze medal in the recent Rio Paralympics, together with the blind twins, Joshua and Jeremiah Nelmida whom I met when they joined an aquathlon event  forPWDs in Subic.

And last Tuesday, I was invited by the Department of Tourism’s  Office for Public Affairs and  Advocacy to  the Accessible Tourism Pilipinas Forum,  a half day event held at the Diamond Hotel.

And lo and behold, the topic was on barrier-free tourism, aimed at highlighting the problems encountered by PWD-travelers whenever they venture out of their homes and try to enjoy  the country’s tourist destinations.

When I interviewed para-athletes like Josephine, the blind twins, and  some others in the past, the problems I heard from them focused more on their training, the lack of support for  Para athletes like them but  not  the daily problems I saw and heard when  I  attended the forum jointly organized by the National Council on Disability Affairs (NACD) and the DOT.

And believe me, it  was  an eye opener  for me as  it dawned on me the magnitude of the problems faced by PWD’s.

The first resource speaker was wheelchair-bound  Adela Kono, a Cebu-based Universal Design Expert who graphically  shared and showed the host of problems of traveling PWDs, primarily focused on  using comfort rooms or bath rooms in different  lodging places, from hotels to beach resorts.

She came well prepared, showing not only the problems but also  what needs to be done by tourism industry establishments in order to encourage  PWDs  to travel and stay at PWD-friendly places.
Things  that I would  take for granted like  using a comfort room in a mall  or  a hotel, or even getting on and off planes or vans, I realized, was a difficult experience for PWDs.
Imagine not being able  to  enter a bathroom because it cannot fit a wheelchair, or  even when inside already, nothing to hold on to enable  one to  plop himself on the toilet bowl, too high water faucets and tissue paper holders.         These were just some examples Adela  cited in her presentation.
And she certainly knows what she is talking about as hotels, restaurants, and malls consult with her in order to either improve existing facilities or to integrate  PWD-friendly features  right from the planning stage  for those  who   would be opening establishments.
Sad  to say, she still considers the Philippines as generally a hostile environment for PWDs with some few  bright spots, compared to  Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and of course Western countries. The Philippines lags far behind in making life  and traveling  more comfortable for PWDs.
And to think that world-wide, there are an estimated 78 million PWDs  worldwide, a lot of them retired seniors with money to spare on travelling but  are discouraged by the  challenges they have to face  on the road, in the Philippines. There are about 14 million people belonging to this category, also itching to go around the country.
Another speaker, a vehicular accident  victim, was Dr. Jeana Manalaysay , who dubs  herself as Lakwatserang Wheelchair, who despite her condition, has managed to travel to  more places in the Philippines than most Filipinos, reaching  all the way to the top of the observation hill of the famous Chocolate  Hills in Bohol.
And  even for  able bodied people like me, it took my breath just to climb the stairs to the top. Like Adela,  she shared the difficulties she has faced with her family whenever they take to the road, but in her case, she focuses on the destination and not  on the problems so she  ends  up enjoying.
Adela is batting  for universal accessibility, meaning hotel, restaurant, and transportation facilities should be designed to be universally  adaptable to any one.         She  gives very specific measurements like  the width of entrances, the height of  urinal and toilet bowls, same with wash basins, as  a way to help tourism stakeholders.
On its part, the DOT has been conducting seminars  to train fron liners in hotels  and restaurants on how to handle properly people with disabilities, including seniors.
I personally appreciate the fact that   even as I  have celebrated my 50th birthday for  11 straight years already, I  still manage t to  avoid the difficult situations encountered by PWDs and other senior citizens like me.
On her part, NCDA OIC Carmen Zubiaga  batted for  a more pro-active  response  from tourism establishments and espoused a campaign for  a universal design for facilities and features, and she is right in saying that  BP 344 passed in 1983 and that covers PWDs and  their concerns, is already obsolete with the way the world has changed  now.
What is needed is a new way of  thinking, a new way of looking at the plight of PWDs over basic things in life.  In this way, we need to understand, accept, and adjust  to  these  concerns, we may be able to avoid being accident victims,  but believe me, sooner or later, we all will come to an age when the spirit is willing but the body is weak with age.
I just hope that this piece helps in  one way or another to increase  the awareness of the public, the government, and the private sector, particularly those in the tourism industry  on the present status of the  PWD’s problems and  take the necessary action.
Lastly,  to give credit where credit is due,  the DOT has  given recognition  to establishments that have passed the requirements  to be a PWD-friendly place, the list includes the Crimson Hotel and Acacia in Alabang, New World, Holiday Inn, Maxim’s, Nobu, Marriot, H2O, Taal Vista, Marco Polo Pearl Farm and Radisson  Park In  in Davao,  Baguio Country Club, The Manor, Azalea, and the Forest Lodge, all in Baguio, among others.
Next time, back to sports again for me.