Road Town, in a wheelchair
On Sunday, I was driving through Road Town when I passed two tourists rolling down Waterfront Drive in wheelchairs.
Not surprisingly, they were having difficulty.
They had reached a raised sidewalk in front of Colombian Emeralds, near the Crafts Alive Village. The man was struggling to help push the woman’s chair over the curb.
Finally, they succeeded. Then she rolled forward on the sidewalk, only to come to a quick halt: She had reached a drain where the sidewalk narrowed. Her chair wouldn’t fit.
She turned around and wheeled off the sidewalk, back onto Waterfront Drive. They took the road toward the traffic light as cars drove by a few feet away.
Considering that government hosted a “Buddy Walk” last week to raise awareness about difficulties faced by the disabled in the community, I decided to ask the pair if I could tag along for the rest of their visit.
Jeannie and Derek Curson — an English couple with a habit of finishing each other’s sentences — were here on a cruise they took in part to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.
Both have used wheelchairs for most of their lives: Mr. Curson for 48 years, since he fell out of a tree at age 12; his wife for 40 years, after her legs were paralysed by a back operation gone wrong.
They are regular visitors to the region, and said the Virgin Islands was their first stop on the cruise.
They had already wheeled from the Cruise Ship Pier to Peebles Hospital, and then to the Road Town Roundabout and back. But it had not been easy going.
“You’re wheeling along the pavement and then it comes to a dead-end — there’s a foot drop-off,” she said. “What we’ve noticed is there’s a lot of drains.”
To make their way through town, they mostly stuck to Waterfront Drive, wheeling themselves in the direction of oncoming traffic.
“We had to keep crossing over the road and looking for the best route. You’ve always got to be looking for where to go next, haven’t you?” Ms. Curson said. “And there’s a lot of broken glass as well. I’ve had one puncture on this holiday already.”
Main Street, they said, wasn’t even an option, considering its narrow width, traffic and lack of sidewalks.
Still, in spite of the challenges, neither seemed interested in dwelling on the negatives.
“When we’ve been actually pushing in the road, all the motorists, all the drivers, have been really courteous,” Mr. Curson said.
“Yes, they’ve moved off for us, and they’ve stopped at crossings for us,” his wife added.
“And even where there isn’t a crossing, if they see you want to go across, they were stopping and saying, you know, take care,” he said.
Thanks to such friendly attitudes, they enjoyed their visit in spite of the challenges.
“We went by the church with all the families there. It was really lovely to see,” Ms. Curson said.
Her husband added, “This lady, we didn’t know her from Adam, and she stopped and she was talking to us. People are attracted to us because, I suppose, they’re concerned about us, aren’t they?”
And even though the Cursons hadn’t done any shopping — most stores they passed were accessible only by steps — a few sales representatives had come outside and offered to help them browse.
On the way back to the cruise ship pier, the couple easily crossed Waterfront Drive at the traffic light.
But on the other side, there was no ramp up to the sidewalk. So they had to take the road, navigating between a sewer grate and a safari bus, whose driver cheerfully offered them a ride.
After that, their progress was smooth until they reached the tents beside the pier. Ms. Curson looked sceptically at the grassy hill down to the vendors’ tables. But at her husband’s urging, she agreed to go for it.
After wheeling carefully down the hill, they were able to browse the merchandise for sale, even though the gravelly ground was difficult for them to navigate at times.
As they were struggling to wheel back up to the sidewalk, Ms. Curson noticed a woman in an electronic wheelchair nearby.
Parked alone on the sidewalk, she was watching the shoppers under the tents. “I’m going to ask her why she’s not going down there,” Ms. Curson said.
Eunice Spooner, a Maine resident with her grandchildren’s names embroidered on her sweatshirt, was disgruntled.
“It is extremely difficult,” she said of navigating Road Town.
Ms. Spooner, who carries a business card identifying herself as a “Wheelchair Traveler by cruise ship,” was attempting to explore Road Town with the help of her friend Marlene Tew.
She wasn’t having much luck. Her electronic wheelchair, she explained, prevented her from hopping any curbs like the Cursons.
“In all these shops, I had to go down and look at them and report to her,” Ms. Tew said.
The 28-year wheelchair user, whose spinal column was severed in an automobile accident, was able to reach Waterfront Drive without any problem.
But when she crossed the street to go toward the centre of town, she started running into difficulties.
First, there was no wheelchair ramp up to the sidewalk. So she had to drive her chair about 30 feet down the road to access it.
Then, once on the sidewalk, she came to a storm drain whose bars were so widely spaced she was afraid they would catch her chair’s wheels. So she turned back.
Crafts Alive Village
To show me what she was talking about, she invited me to accompany her back to Waterfront Drive.
There, in spite of the condition of the sidewalk, we realised that she could ride through a parking lot and cross a road to reach Crafts Alive Village.
She was excited to go. In the village, at least one of the stores even had a ramp. But, Ms. Spooner pointed out, a step in the store’s doorway meant she couldn’t go inside anyway. The nearby bathrooms were designed the same way.
All told, Ms. Spooner said Road Town had been a difficult experience. But she wasn’t too worried: The cruise was going to stop in St. Maarten soon, and she was looking forward to it — even though she was planning to spend the day on her own.
“I feel comfortable enough there that I’ll be perfectly fine in St. Maarten. But here, I wouldn’t go anywhere by myself, because I can’t get anywhere,” she said. “Had I known, it would have been better for us to stay on the cruise ship.”