The Ministry of the People and Social Development and the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) have been congratulating themselves on the achievement of ELDAMO. The feel-good mood is helped along by the happy choice of the catchy ELDAMO acronym, which spells out as Elderly and Differently Abled Mobile Service.
What has been promoted in advertisements by the two agencies is a free service dedicated to enabling elderly and differently abled persons get around. It happens, for a start, however, that the advertising tagline, "Helping everyone to move forward'', could well be overselling the achievement.
In fact, ELDAMO provides a fleet of just 24 new specially equipped buses. With the apparent aim of providing the greatest good for the greatest number, the Ministry and the PTSC have designed an enlarged target group that includes elderly persons.
Not all elderly people, of course, need the same kind of assistance in getting around as do those people, of all ages, who may be critically dependent on wheelchairs. But in ambitiously aiming to provide equally for both the elderly and the differently abled, ELDAMO has raised expectations to a level higher than that for which the programme realistically provides.
Still, this is the start of something new and positive for members of that often-overlooked community, or those communities who, for the purposes of ELDAMO, actually constitute two target groups, with different needs. Moreover, the fleet of 24 ELDAMO buses, roughly maxi-taxi in size, though a start, amount to a small step in the direction of providing efficiently for the transport needs of the differently able population.
This is a population, roughly estimated at 130,000, or one tenth of the T&T population. Among these, the new programme raises hopes for possibilities of getting around, without having to rely on friends, family and favours, and for realising their potential to lead productive lives of fulfillment to the extent possible.
It's, however, just possible that, used to seeing their needs overlooked or under-provided for, such citizens have already mentally adjusted downward the difference ELDAMO will make. They will have noted, for example, that ELDAMO promotions have announced the requirement of a 24-hour advance call.
Receiving a proliferation of such calls is likely to be uncritically taken by the official sponsors as evidence of success. Would-be clients will judge success on the basis of how the calls are processed, and the response time.
Already, some non-government specialists in policy for the differently abled are fearing ELDAMO could quickly become oversubscribed. They advocate the common-sense, long-term, solution of taking the ELDAMO beneficiaries out of the ghetto of special treatment. That could be done, and indeed, should be done, by the modern approach, widely adopted abroad, of requiring all PTSC buses to be built or made equally capable of transporting all passengers, both differently abled and other.