Next time you park up against a pavement ramp, think of people like Debbie
The ramps have been paved and the double yellow lines painted, but Debbie Schembri still cannot get off the pavement for her daily evening tour in Qawra.
A car is blocking her only way down, and she has to wheel herself back along the boardwalk to find a gap where she can squeeze through.
Several cars down, the determined 46-year-old wheelchair user finally manages to cross the road to the Qawra promenade on the other side.
She sighs with relief when she sees that no one has yet blocked the ramp leading up to the promenade itself.
More often than not, she has to accept a challenge against the oncoming traffic and, risking life and limb, wheel herself along the parked cars on the road.
“The other option to risking my life is wasting it locked up indoors,” she said.
Ms Schembri has been confined to a wheelchair all her life but she is quite independent, also travelling often by bus.
Commuting to work in the morning is usually quite smooth.
The trouble starts when she returns home in the evening and especially on the weekend.
She goes out every day and never gives up; once she spent 15 minutes trying to get off the pavement because cars where blocking all the accessible ramps.
“We’ve improved road infrastructure a lot. However, what difference does this make when the mentality remains the same,” she asked.
People not only block ramps when there is a double yellow line but they also ignore signs informing drivers that the spot is reserved for people with a disability, she says.
Motorbikes are sometimes also parked on the pavement, making it impossible for people with a wheelchair or pushchair to manoeuvre around them without coming down from the sidewalk.
Ms Schembri’s unpleasant experiences are not limited to lack of access.
“Sometimes you hear people talking about you as if you’re invisible. But I make sure they know I’ve heard them talking about ‘that woman in the wheelchair’.
“Only the other day I was in Republic Street, Valletta, and a woman pulled a young girl away from me, telling her to ‘keep away from that woman in the wheelchair.
“Why don’t people understand that we’re not disabled by choice and instead make friends with disabled people?” she asked, clearly disappointed.
Source: Times of Malta