SINT MAARTEN (BELVEDERE) – The St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation debuted its new wheelchair ramp at the organization’s Belvedere offices this month, a project they undertook with the encouragement and support of their client, Fritz Pantophlet. Pantophlet is no stranger to the media; he has been tirelessly campaigning to improve accessibility for disabled persons across St. Maarten.
Unable to walk since a motorcycle accident he suffered as a teenager, Pantophlet was unable to enter the office to pay his monthly fees as a client of the SMHDF. An office worker would meet him outside and complete the transaction. Pantophlet began encouraging SMHDF to construct a wheelchair ramp to allow himself, and potential other disabled clients, to come up into the office like all other clients. Current SMHDF director, Helen Salomons, prioritized this long-standing project in her efforts to modernize SMHDF and make it more compliant with international accessibility standards.
“I’ve been in this chair for 30 years,” Pantophlet commented, “and I’ve spoken to countless businesses and individuals in government about updating accessibility for St. Maarten. Sometimes even when there is a wheelchair accessible entrance, it’s still not usable. Right now, you have a ramp by WIB, a ramp by the police station…but the sidewalk blocks access to them. If I cannot get onto the sidewalk, I cannot use the ramp. Myself, other citizens, visitors…we all face these issues.”
Pantophlet launched the Fritz Pantophlet Paraplegic Ready to Move Foundation with the primary objective of promoting accessibility for all buildings on St. Maarten and planning events to enable athletic activity for disabled persons.
“After my accident at 19 left me in a wheelchair, I spent a few months doing nothing,” Pantophlet writes in a letter explaining the foundation’s goal. “I was then introduced to wheelchair basketball, racing and tennis, even going so far as being invited to represent St. Maarten at competitions in the Netherlands. I have always been thankful for life and for those opportunities.”
SMHDF Director Salomons pledged to support Pantophlet’s goals by adding the organization’s voice to his call for more disabled accessibility across St. Maarten.
“We need to recognize that accessibility is important for everyone,” Salomon stated. “Many disabled persons are confined to their homes or face difficulty running even basic errands simply because many facilities lack even just a wheelchair ramp. We fully support Fritz’s push to bring the country up to date on this issue.”
“Mr. Pantophlet’s concerns and struggles are not limited to just himself,” Salomons continued. “While the legislation may take some time, different organizations in the community can take steps to making St. Maarten more accessible for disabled residents and also, visitors.”
Pantophlet thanked the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation for prioritizing the ramp to their office and spoke of the plans his foundation must continue working with SMHDF on promoting accessibility for both the public and private sector.
“After Irma, I added “For Life” to the slogan Ready to Move,” he says, “because it needs to be a change for the long-term. We were SXM Strong for Life, and to me that means, everybody must be strong. SMHDF has already taken a big step to making sure that this is reality; we have been pushing for this so to see it happen is wonderful.”