11 August 2008

Taxis for disabled on the way

A DEDICATED taxi service for the disabled could be on the way if its backers can raise BD100,000 they need to get it off the ground.It is the brainchild of Bahrain Mobility International (BMI), which has already launched a first-of-its kind wheelchair repair service.

The organisation is now seeking backers for its subsidised taxi project, which would also cater to the country's blind.

It is now seeking sponsors to help it buy seven buses and cars, as well as pay salaries and other overheads.

"The disabled are really suffering because they don't have transport," said BMI vice-president Adel Sultan.

"If they get a job and can't drive they need to employ someone, so this service will make it easy for them.

"It is difficult for them to go in regular taxis so we will have specialised buses for wheelchair users."

He said the service would initially be aimed at those needing transport to work and hospital appointments, but in future could be extended into a 24-hour taxi service for the disabled.

"All this is a dream that is now coming into reality," said Mr Sultan.

"Since we started the golf tournament fundraiser three years ago we have been able to provide our services without struggling like before and this has given us the chance to think about other needs and services for the disabled.

"So for the first time we are now making a planning and development section in BMI."

Among the projects that BMI hopes will make a difference to Bahrain's disabled is the wheelchair repair workshop, located at its premises in Isa Town.

Thousands of disabled people across the country are expected to benefit from the new venture, which is the first of its kind in the country.


The workshop also repairs motorised beds and has been made possible thanks to donations of BD7,000 from the Social Development Ministry and BD3,000 from the Bahrain Round Table.

The donations cover equipment, stock, running costs and salaries of a technician and a supervisor for one year, but it is expected to cost about BD5,000 to run the workshop annually.

Customers will be provided with a hired wheelchair while they are waiting and workshop staff can also give advice on buying and using a wheelchair.

Mr Sultan said the disabled and the elderly had been struggling for years because there wasn't a suitable wheelchair repair facility in Bahrain.

"They go to the shop they bought the wheelchair from and the trader doesn't have the parts and doesn't care about repairing it because it will not profit him much," he said.

"They are forced to go to a bicycle shop, but most companies don't supply parts - especially for powered wheelchairs.

"But now they can come to our workshop and we will only charge them the cost of the parts."

He said BMI had been working on the repair facility project for three years and was happy it was finally up and running.

"I was pushing for this because I know the suffering of wheelchair users, many of them call me up and say they have a flat tyre and can't go outside," said Mr Sultan.

"The wheelchair is an extension of their body. I use a calibre (a metal rod that stabilises the leg) and if something happens to it I can't walk.

"It's the same for the wheelchair user, if they have a problem they feel they are not independent.

"Everyone is very happy because at last they have somewhere to go."

BMI has a long-term plan to provide mobile repair services for wheelchair users who are unable to visit the workshop.

More than 6,000 disabled people are registered at the Social Development Ministry and more than 2,000 elderly use wheelchairs.

BMI is now compiling a database of wheelchair users in Bahrain and hopes the workshop will help them collect statistics.

It is also planning a project in October to provide the deaf and disabled with driving lessons.

That initiative is being sponsored by the ministry, which is providing BD30,000 to run the project for year.

"We will provide the driving instructor free of charge, we will have one for the deaf and one for those with physical disabilities," said Mr Sultan.

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