THE DRAFT policy document for people with disabilities uses the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as a framing philosophy. Why then, one may well ask, do the policymakers not simply adopt the CRPD as its policy? As one of my colleagues pointed out, governments are not allowed to cherry-pick once they have ratified the convention.
Needless to say each national policy must be specific to the social, cultural and economic needs of a particular nation. But that said the basic principles must be adhered to. What is more, this policy is not to be taken lightly. It must be backed by adequate funding and determined will.
Moreover, it is imperative that people with disabilities should be included at all stages of the writing of a policy document. Drafters need to keep in mind that there are many different types of disabilities: there are people with physical disabilities, the blind and visually impaired, the deaf and hard of hearing, people with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and, yes minister, people with mental health issues. This latter is pretty invisible at present and the document really does not speak for or of them. But they do exist and their rights include access, education at the very highest level and equality legislation that speaks to their needs.
It is therefore not enough to cut and paste from previous documents, given how little we in this country are aware of such matters. Nor is it enough to write a document simply to fulfil the reporting requirement, the deadline for which is June 21, 2017.
While we are on this, can anyone tell me what is the criterion for sitting on the inter-ministerial committee? There is only one person with a disability serving in this capacity.
What exactly is the knowledge base or even the interest level of people who comprise this reporting committee, which will speak to the UN about Trinidad and Tobago’s progress in implementing the CRPD? Can these individuals enter into the lives and experiences of people with disabilities? Should the Government call a public consultation, given the requirement to consult with civil society, since many key people may not be on the invitation list of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services? These are important questions and speak to the intentionality behind the policy document. Such intentions can only be assured by threading educational policy right through so that people with disabilities can become more effective and access their right to elect a representative of their choice and thereby have their voices heard. Education is the key to bringing about equity.
This is something that we in the Caribbean know very well. It has fuelled our society in Trinidad and Tobago for at least five decades.
We need to apply similar ideals to educating people with disabilities, as we did to those disfranchised by colonialism. But we need to learn from the mistakes we have made and adopt a system of differentiated learning that allows all people access to all levels of education.
There must be a commitment to the provision of mechanisms that ensure that differences do not hinder the intellectual or social development of a child or adult. This means foregrounding education even within the key principles. This will go far to ensuring equal opportunities for all people with disabilities.
This should also be enshrined within the section on health/rehabilitation which lists methods of habilitation and rehabilitation. The focus here should be on the development of the full potential of the individual. It must specify integration rather than encouraging segregation.
Under access to information and technology, there is no mention of training in the use of technology.
Throughout this document continuing education continues to be an issue that is evaded. Properly educated people will be able to access meaningful jobs.
Indeed, why not utilise people who are disabled in creating more posts for the provision of services.
This may put a stop once and for all to the idea that people with disabilities should be recipients of charity.
I noted some of these key issues last week. Perhaps some further examples might be useful: the drafting of legislation was actually included in the draft action plan for the Inter- ministerial Committee to Promote, Protect and Monitor the Implementation of the CRPD for TT and according to the timeline, legislation should have been drafted by October 2016.
That has not happened, but the new draft policy document now informs us that “[a]ll activities and national programmes should operate within the confines of the law and policies relating to disability.” It is therefore imperative that there is legislation that will protect the rights of people with disabilities.
The draft policy document, however, fails to specify that government will need to both provide and exercise safeguards against abuse and discrimination.
The exclusion of the word “exercise” or an equivalent means there is no legal imperative to functionalise any policy or any law that is passed.
We know in Trinidad and Tobago much is said and many laws are non-operational.
It is important that laws should protect both the autonomy and independence of citizens who are disabled and additionally provide protection and well as regulated assistance for people who may be unable to fully access their legal rights.
The balance is a difficult one to attain and needs careful consultation and though