Pres Day
December 7, 2018
Update on Virtus’ Protecting God’s Children programme
December 7, 2018

Let’s help empower persons with disabilities

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
Visit rcsocialjusticett.org for our columns, media releases and more.

“There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more” (Robert M. Hensel). The world celebrated International Day of Persons with Disabilities last Monday (December 3). Each of us knows persons with some form of disability e.g. intellectual, physical, sensory, and/or mental. Reflect on how you can make a difference in their lives.

This year’s UN theme focused on “empowering persons with disabilities for an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda pledges to ‘leave no one behind’.”

That’s a tall order for us in T&T, given that currently we are leaving many able-bodied and disabled persons behind. In an age of widespread indifference, I pay tribute to the many individuals and organisations that continue to play their part in building inclusive communities here.

I am a Lay Assessor on the Equal Opportunity Tribunal. The Equal Opportunity Act (Ch. 22:03) prohibits discrimination of a person because of his/her disability, except where there is undue hardship on the employer/prospective employer, the provider of goods or services or facilities.

Section 3 defines disability. The acts of discrimination can be in employment, education, provision of goods and services and provision of accommodation (http://www.equalopportunity.gov.tt/?q=disability).  We may have legislation, policies and programmes in place, but we often “fall down” at the implementation stage.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 states: “Disability rights advocates were aware of no efforts by the government to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it ratified in 2015. Prior to the ratification, the law prohibited discrimination based on disability but did not mandate equal access for persons with disabilities.

“Persons with disabilities faced discrimination and denial of opportunities. Such discrimination could be traced to architectural barriers, employers’ reluctance to make necessary accommodations that would enable otherwise qualified job candidates to work, an absence of support services to assist students with disabilities to study, lowered expectations of the abilities of persons with disabilities, condescending attitudes, and disrespect.”

Let’s support the work of organisations such as the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities, and raise our awareness of the work of the Disability Affairs Unit at the Ministry of Social Development and Family Affairs whose mission is: “To advocate for the rights, protection and equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities living in T&T by monitoring and coordinating the implementation of the National Policy of Persons with Disabilities.”

Parishes should establish Ministries to advocate for the rights of the disabled and create conditions that will enable disabled persons to realise their potential—addressing issues such as inclusivity and accessibility.

The UN rightly states, “persons with disabilities, are both beneficiaries and agents of change”. They should not be seen as passive recipients of “charity”. Some of the greatest minds in our world have been/continue to reside in the disabled community. Let’s tap into their wealth of knowledge, skills and abilities to build the common good.

About 90 per cent of disability is not visible—not immediately apparent to others. I remember speaking to a youth in the Gonzales area who was trying to turn his life around. I asked him why he dropped out of school.

He responded saying that he had a hearing impairment and his teacher had put him to sit at the back of the class. “Education passed me by,” he said. A biography of Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris, entitled God’s Will, has been published. Read about how he overcame his disabilities. At one stage he had a pronounced stutter.

And you may have read in the media, statements by our current Archbishop Jason Gordon, acknowledging that he has dyslexia. He says: “I only found out I was dyslexic when I was doing my doctorate.” In May, Newsday reports him saying: “What we’ve tended to do is label, create a box and leave somebody in a place… Keep people growing so they move through the development challenges and become the people God intended. You have to help people see where they are doing well, to show where they can go.”

If we are committed to full inclusion and authentic integral development of each person, let’s reflect on what we can and must do to meet the needs of/empower those with sensory, physical, intellectual and mental disabilities. All disabled persons are part of our community and we must demonstrate that we respect their inherent, inviolable, and inalienable dignity as children of God.