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.