Senator Routier is the latest to receive a Royal honour (the MBE), to a large part in recognition of his work with/for disabled people.
As is so often the case, his “disability” interest derives from a personal family stimulus.
There have been many others in the
Channel Islands and it may be generally true (I don’t have figures) that promoting a disability cause is a likely way to attract an award.
I have not noticed, by way of comparison, many honours granted to plumbers or bus drivers for doing their jobs (doubtless, somebody will know of some) and the long-serving Welsh fish ‘n’chip lady was surely unique.
If we are to have such award schemes, the campaigners for “disability” issues are as deserving as any - and rather more so than the procession of showbiz and sports people who feature so regularly and with much more fanfare. Disability today refers as much to people with cancer as it does to those with sight, hearing or mobility impairment or learning difficulties.
Personally, I was very pleased when fellow campaigner Gill Curtis (pictured above) was honoured a few years ago for her efforts promoting disability equality and non-discrimination in
She was of course a long-term wheelchair user who died from her disabling illness as her brother had done, some years previously.
Unfortunately, nobody has emerged, since Gill died two years ago, from among the “disabled” community in
Jersey to carry on her campaign, with similar determination.
This thought struck me very strongly during this week’s
Plan debate where nobody had really presented the case for an accessible built environment. marathon Island
It was especially evident when Alan Breckon tried to raise the age threshold on “sheltered” housing and the discussion centred on such issues as “lifetime” homes and the design of homes suitable for all. But only on a piecemeal basis. When the Island Plan was examined by the UK Planning Inspectors in public, there was a noticeable lack of a coordinated policy or disability strategy and only limited lobbying by a few.
After all these years I thought, the message has still not reached many people – ALL new homes should be built to lifetime home designs, so that pregnant mums, babies in buggies, injured rugby players, the long-term disabled and temporarily ill etc can all be accommodated in their own homes. Space allowance for wheelchairs, hoists and lifts should all be allowed for (to be installed as and when required) with electrical switches, window catches, level door thresholds, absence of steps etc - all designed to encourage “universal accessibility.” In fact, although many States Members were obviously not aware of it, the Jersey Building Regulations do require that many of these standards are achieved in most new constructions.
It is not just homes of course. ALL buildings should be built, so far as possible so that everybody can use them and the existing Planning Office itself must be the worst example of a public building in
Jersey on this basis. But, why is it still permissible for restaurants, pubs, hotels not to offer accessible facilities or offices to be no-go zones for some people, and why should it be doubly- difficult for some people to visit a dentist, optician or shop due to sub-standard access?
Even if all new buildings were properly designed, the fact is that most are already in existence and not generally “accessible.” The growing number of people now being cared-for by a partner or family member in totally unsuitable homes is an immense social problem. Yet the prohibitive cost and lack of availability of residential “cares-homes” ensures that there is an ever growing misery within so many
The Island Plan offers no solution to this problem, even in the long term future and Ozouf’s CSR cuts will ensure that funds are not available to address it, for decades to come.
Buses, Taxis, private cars, ships, and aircraft ought also to be much more accessible by design.
If you have ever sat in a buggy or wheelchair and attempted to travel along a cobbled roadway
King Street for size)
– then you might understand why smoother surfaces, without kerbs and proliferation of street furniture, are so important.
So, not only is
Jersey failing to address the inadequacy of current design, it is also failing to ensure that services are available and employment offered, without discrimination. As usual, it is a community falling way behind the standards offered in other places and demanded by international obligations.
Sadly, just giving awards to those well meaning people who lobby for piecemeal change is not enough. It is mere tokenism.
Jersey needs the whole anti-discrimination legislative framework in place and ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ASAP, together with the appointment of an officer dedicated to ensure its implementation. It also needs the allocation of substantial public funding, for many years to come.