News

Activist raises concerns of wheelchair access at redesigned ORIA

Dec 06, 2017 Culture

The new and improved Owen Roberts International Airport is taking shape, and in the next few months the traveling public will see the pace of change picking up. After a behind-the-scenes tour last week, tourism officials were flush with praise, but one community activist says the design leaves a lot to be desired for the disabled. Like many Caymanians, community activist Kent McTaggart told Cayman 27 he's pleased long-awaited upgrades to Owen Roberts International Airport are coming to fruition. "We are going to be opening up a brand new airport in 2017 and we don't have accessibility conquered?" said Mr. McTaggart. As the father of a disabled child, he said he was struck by one commodity he said he found in short supply at the re-designed airport: wheelchair access. "We are ironically in the month of disability awareness, we just celebrated a day of awareness and we are about to open this up and we have a situation at our departure area where there is no access," said Mr. McTaggart. Cayman 27 counted just three points of wheelchair accessibility along the airport's north-facing curb, and one on the property's western edge. "They would have to roll down this area, where vehicles drive, to actually get to the ramp, so either way you go to a ramp in the situation, the person that's in the wheelchair is being endangered because they are in a vehicle there traffic paths, to me it's unacceptable," said Mr. McTaggart. The Ministry of Tourism and Transport confirmed the airport design "meets the building code and was passed by planning" in an email exchange Tuesday. Mr. McTaggart said if that's the case, he says its the codes are failing those with disabilities. "We designed this, we've now looked over the plans, we've built it, and the proof is in the pudding that we really don't get it, we don't understand what it is to have to live in a wheelchair, and that is sad," said Mr. McTaggart. Just to reiterate, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport confirmed Tuesday (6 December) that the airport design does meet the building code and was passed by planning. Cayman 27 received a statement from the National Disabilities Council Tuesday late afternoon:

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities are not aware of all the facts surrounding the issue with the airport accessibility issue that you have highlighted.    The Director of Planning is currently out of office, therefore myself and other members of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities have agreed to arrange a meeting with him when he returns to office so that we can get a better understanding of the issue.  

However, I can confirm that in the meantime, that I have been informed by the Planning Department that any plans approved to date for the airport project would be compliant with existing building codes and standards, approved prior to the coming into force of the Disabilities Law.    If that is correct, and there are still accessibility issues, then I think the issue is that the existing building codes and standards are not as robust as they could be in relation to ensuring accessibility by persons with disabilities.      

Part of the role of our Council is to act as a watchdog to ensure that Government implements necessary changes to a wide range of laws, regulations and policies, in order to meet the stated objectives of the Disabilities Law, to ensure that persons with disabilities have full access and participation in society and achieve independent living, which includes accessibility to public buildings.  These changes take time to implement, but we note that future changes to the Planning Laws are certainly one of the Government’s stated objectives. 

That said, our Council welcomes any effort by members of the public to bring to our attention areas where accessibility issues need to be addressed.  We certainly hope that if there are in fact practical issues with the plans that have been approved, which result in a lack of accessibility to the airport, that we are able to address those issues now, before completion of the airport.

- Magda Embury, Chairperson, National Council for Persons with Disabilities Cayman 27 reached out to the Airports Authority with questions regarding disability access, but as of Tuesday evening, have not received a response.