BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 6, 2017–Unless you’ve spent a day in a wheelchair, you very likely cannot begin to fathom the everyday challenges with which a paraplegic has to contend on a regular basis.
Imagine having to crawl up the stairway to get into a plane because help is refused, as was the case with a man in Japan, to enable safe boarding onto a commercial flight! And imagine the dread of being carried down wobbly stairs from an aircraft, just because a lift, which would make for safer conveyance, is unavailable.
Provisions to enable people with diverse abilities to move around as independently as possible are fundamental to ensuring that these persons can go where they want to go, when they need to go. It is their right to seek and demand the fullest human existence possible.
When Mary Lisa Franklin, 58, sister of Kremandala’s Virginia Echols, was injured in a road traffic accident 21 years ago, it devastated her. She realizes that she did not have to survive it, and her very survival gave her the impetus to achieve a higher calling in advocating for better amenities for people who are wheelchair-bound. She has been doing so through her organization, Warriors on Wheels, engaging in everything from dialogue to protests – all peacefully executed to achieve their cause.
In an interview with Amandala today, Franklin, who is in Belize from September 5 to 11 for the 70th birthday celebration of Virginia Echols, recounted: “I was in an automobile accident in 1996. A drunk driver hit the car I was riding in and I had a spinal cord injury. So from that point on, noticing how inaccessible the community was and how hard it was to get into certain public places, I decided to do something about it and that’s how I started the organization.”
Franklin says that whereas there are things that she needs help with, there are other things she can do for herself.
“I can still wash dishes and cook,” she said, adding later that she also loves kayaking.
“When you think of things that should be in place to aid our independence, then those things should be done because we are citizens who [are deserving], just like the next person,” Franklin expressed.
When Franklin, who lives in Detroit, Michigan, came to Belize via a commercial flight, she was the last passenger to exit the airplane, and that was because she had to be carried down the stairs strapped in an aisle seat. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, she knew that she would have challenges with her legs.
“I felt uncomfortable. They lifted me in the air and that was scary!” she expressed.
She said that her knees and legs were strapped down, and her arms crisscrossed in front of her. She was then placed in a wheelchair at the foot of the stairs.
Her deeper concern is for others who may weigh more or be taller than she is, and who may not want to have their independence taken away.
When I was in the States, I did some research and found that there is a company that makes ramps…” said Franklin. She is awaiting an estimate, and she believes that the airlines which come to Belize could collaborate to purchase the lifter to aid in ground transportation not just for persons who use wheelchairs but also the elderly, who are assisted on arrival with wheelchairs to move through Immigration and Customs posts at the airport.
Franklin has teamed up with the Belize Association for People with Diverse Abilities (BAPDA) to offer a session at the Radisson Fort George Hotel this week for families who all of a sudden find themselves with a person that has become physically challenged.
“I didn’t have to survive that night, but I did and I came back stronger than ever and He has opened a lot of doors for me…” she said, optimistic that her advocacy here in Belize could also pay economic dividends for the tourism sector, as adding a lifter for airplanes and other needed amenities that would help persons be more independent would attract more tourists with diverse abilities to Belize.