San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

People with Disabilities Battled for Equal Access

Though 2006 marked 10 years since the Law for Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities was passed, activists this year continued struggling in their seemingly endless battle for access for this sector.

In May, advocates complained of a lack of job opportunities, poor distribution of information about disabled rights and assistance programs, and limited access to public spaces.

Just days after the May 29 10th anniversary of the passage of the equalaccess law, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) rejected the first of 14 lawsuits filed by bus companies against the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT) for the announcement authorities would fine buses without wheelchair ramps. The 1996 law gave these companies until 2003 to install the ramps, but most haven’t.

The court ruling allowed Transit Police to start handing out fines of ¢30,000 (approximately $60) to these buses in May, giving them three months to install ramps or face being taken out of circulation. However, bus company owners complained that enforcement of the law could cause a shortage of public transportation.

In June, legislators voted in first debate in favor of a bill to give bus companies an additional eight years to install the ramps. Fourteen legislators sent the text of the bill to Sala IV for review.

In August, the court sent the bill back to the Legislative Assembly, ruling that extending the deadline for the ramps violates the Constitution, which states all people are equal under the law.

Despite the ruling, by year’s end legislators had approved the controversial bill in second debate, according to assembly spokesman Armando Alonso.

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