February 14, 2019 / 12:58 PM / a month ago

Portuguese charity 'takes court to court' over poor access for disabled people

FILE PHOTO: Wheelchair user Ricardo Teixeira demonstrates the phone app he developed to report accessibility infringements to Portuguese authorities as he sits unable to proceed up a flight of steps in Lisbon, Portugal, June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

LISBON (Reuters) - A Portuguese charity has sued the government to get it to force a courthouse to comply with a 12-year-old decree requiring all public spaces to be accessible to disabled people and set an example for other offenders.

The pioneering lawsuit targets a large court complex in the northern provincial city of Leiria that has only steps, rather than ramps usable by people in wheelchairs, and counters too high for disabled people, lawyer Abel Teles de Andrade said.

A 2007 government decree set a deadline of February 2017 for ensuring accessibility to public spaces for the disabled, who comprise about 18 percent of Portugal’s population, but the law has yet to be fully implemented.

“This judicial action of ‘taking a court to court’ is an example of how the state is the first to not abide by the law,” said Salvador Almeida, founder of the Salvador Association, a charity for people with reduced mobility.

Filed on Monday, the lawsuit highlights accessibility breaches at the Leiria judicial complex 150 km (90 miles) north of the capital Lisbon. Two of the platform lifts in the court’s main building are also out of order, Andrade said.

“Someone with reduced mobility who wants to accompany a lawyer to trial is not able to do so,” he said. “A court is a place where it’s required that law is enforced, so how is it possible that inside the building the law is not obeyed?”

The Salvador Association sued the Justice Ministry in the case. A ministry statement said courthouses in Portugal were long constructed without considering the needs of the disabled and it had encountered “difficulty in providing these buildings with solutions to overcome existing barriers”.

It said a solution to issues highlighted by the lawsuit was under consideration, without elaborating.

Fed up with physical obstacles confronting the disabled in Portugal, Salvador Association has helped developed a phone app allowing users to file complaints against public buildings and businesses that fail to meet accessibility laws.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Heinrich

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