An agenda for the disabled
We are days away from the end of the month for persons with disabilities. We are also approaching the next general election and it is about time that persons with disabilities benefit from having both political parties outline comprehensive plans for addressing their needs.
Both political parties need to speak directly to the needs of persons with disabilities in the next campaign. For far too long, the needs of the disabled community have been ignored or reduced to a flippant mention here and there and not treated with the seriousness they deserve.
It is difficult not to attribute this to the infantalization of persons with disabilities that we see throughout the country, the unwillingness to recognize that persons with disabilities are capable of ordering their own affairs and, at the bare minimum, speaking for themselves.
Barbadians with disabilities face the same challenges and trials as their able bodied contemporaries but, in addition, their situation is compounded by their disabilities. This is a reality that should compel a government with a conscience, a government that cares, to enact comprehensive legislation addressing the challenges of disabled persons forcefully and with the full weight of the law.
Barbados has contemplated the notion of legislative protections and accommodations for persons with disabilities in the past. However, these contemplations, articulated in a green paper and a subsequent white paper, have failed to become part of a comprehensive act.
Such protections would relate to education, non-discrimination, employment and social security and welfare. Education for persons with disabilities in Barbados requires urgent attention. Protections would include a commitment to guarantee that children and youth with disabilities are incorporated into the mainstream education system commensurate with their abilities.
Also providing them with the necessary tools and modalities to ensure their success in the classroom. Additionally, there is need for an expansion of vocational opportunities for the disabled community. It is necessary that youth with disabilities in Barbados are provided with a multiplicity of opportunities so as to ensure that they have meaningful engagement and contribution to the society.
The current state of play is defined by a lack of adequate assessment to determine whether children with disabilities can succeed in a mainstream classroom, and what provisions would be necessary to make such incorporation as easy as is possible. The status quo is not consistent with a country that fancies saying it believes education is important and which has signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Affirmative protection is also required to ensure that employment opportunities are provided for persons with disabilities in both the public and private sectors.
Such protections would serve to indicate to the society at large that the disabled can be constructive members of the Barbadian society who use their talents and skills to contribute to their own well being and, by extension, the development of the country, something it has taken us too long to grasp as a country.
The current social security scheme for persons with disabilities has been in need of reform for some time now. What is offered is simply too little to survive on given the cost of living in the country and our current economic woes. Additionally, the system is much more geared towards those who were once employed and, as such, contributed to the National Insurance Scheme. By and large, individuals who became disabled at some point after they were employed; therefore, ironically, perpetuating a scheme of discrimination which should not be allowed to continue.
The current system is also defined by differences in the amount of benefits one receives based on what could only be described as arbitrary differences in disability. These issues would be best remedied by legislation that seeks to regularize the scheme and rid it off of the oddities which compromise it as the net of security one should be able to depend upon.
Both major political parties need to step up to the plate in offering platforms on disability as the next election approaches. Persons with disabilities need to leverage their collective voices to advance this most crucial cause. Organizations working in the interest of persons with disabilities need to ensure that members of the community are engaged and kept abreast of the issues.
The time for avoiding politics like the plague is over. That strategy has only served to aid in making sure that issues are not addressed.The time has come for persons with disabilities to stop being left out of the conversation about themselves and this country.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture. He holds a Master’s Degree in International Trade Policy and is currently pursuing a law degree.)