Old habits die hard

By Rachel Shepherd [email protected]

Inspired by her seven-year-old daughter Francesca, a special needs child, Algarve resident Rachel Shepherd has set up a website to promote businesses and amenities in the region that provide facilities for disabled visitors and residents. In her new monthly column, she tells of her experiences and how she copes with barriers.

I am lying on the beach of my childhood memories and teenage parties. Eighteen years later and I still choose to come to the same beach and I have chosen Portugal as my home.

The Algarve is busier and more built up now. Gone are the old pony trials the beach replaced by million-pound houses, but my old family home has survived.

It feels like yesterday that we spent Christmas on the beach as a family. I drive past the villa and remember sitting on the roof terrace watching the world go by and wishing the holiday wasn’t over so quickly.

I used to spend hours at Pinetrees Riding Centre helping out with the horses and competing in riding competitions giving my parents hours of peace.

Nearly 20 years later, the Algarve, inevitably, has changed but some old customs and habits remain in place.

Culture, heritage and tradition are so very important to a country’s identity. They need to be preserved – but old habits, not necessarily so.

One particular habit, and most pertinent with regards to my project, is the lack of traffic and parking etiquette. People still park on the pavement, blocking vital access for pedestrians and denying them a safe and easy thoroughfare.

This creates significant problems for parents with pushchairs, the elderly and disabled people, who have limited ability to wheel themselves from the pavement into the road and back onto the pavement again.

Although roads and pavements in the Algarve are changing (slowly), many do not have proper pavements and their condition is invariably poor, making it impossible to safely negotiate in a wheelchair or on foot.

Perhaps it’s a lack of regard for people with disabilities in the past that has led to this common practice. In recent weeks, I have noticed the way in which people are parking and I honestly cannot comprehend that when it is clear there are parking spaces available, even if it is just a short walk away from where they want to be, people still park on the pavement making it impossible for many people to pass by safely.

Old Portuguese customs and the historic way of life are fabulous, but certain things do have to improve with time and, in this case, it is peoples’ attitudes, lack of consideration and policing of this illegal practice.

Another problem is the distinct lack of parking spaces specifically for disabled people or the correct layout of these spaces. Although this is changing, people still choose to park in front to ‘nip’ into a shop or they park in them when they

clearly shouldn’t.

As these areas are limited, it is frustrating when you go out to find that although the shopping centre or restaurant may have disabled spaces, you are unable to park there because someone has blocked the space or is using it improperly – clearly annoying and massively inconvenient for people with disabilities who want to go out for the day, for dinner or to the shops.

Having travelled to where they are going, they are finally unable to park. Certain drivers seem to have no understanding of others’ needs or a lack of respect for them.

Freedom of movement and access to public facilities is a right everyone has. That’s why these spaces exist and their purpose should be maintained and policed properly. 

At the beaches, the best case scenario is to have two disabled spaces. Sometimes there are none at all. During the busy summer months, the pavements are used as a car park, creating a ridiculous obstacle course for those less able or for families with small children.

It may not seem like a problem to most people going about their business but it can cause great frustration and difficulty as well as presenting danger to sections of society.

Ultimately, there need to be more disabled spaces at the beaches, shopping centres and town centres. They have to be wider than the current ones as they don’t comfortably accommodate a person in a vehicle carrying a wheelchair whose cars or vans are usually bigger and need more room to manoeuvre in and out.

Following on from last month’s article, Miss Kieran from São Lourenço School in Almancil tells how Makaton enables the other children to communicate with Francesca.

Since the new school year began in September, Francesca, her classmates and I have been learning Makaton. Each morning, I introduce two or three new signs: either day-to-day words or vocabulary linked to a particular lesson or theme for that day.

The children have taken to it with great enthusiasm and now after eight weeks of school, they command quite a range of signs. They enjoy putting two signs together to make a phrase, for example ‘chocolate milk’ at snack time or ‘toilet please’.

Francesca’s face lights up as she joins in with her friends and it is wonderful to see the interaction between them. Learning Makaton has made the children more aware of Francesca’s needs and is beginning to give them the confidence to communicate directly with her rather than through her carer.

It could also be a useful tool for children who are visual/kinaesthetic learners. Makaton will allow Francesca to communicate directly with her carer during a lesson when the children or I are talking. We still have a lot to learn, but I can see that signing should enhance our curriculum as well as Francesca’s classroom life.

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