Persistent advocacy

With her husband President Anthony Carmona listening among the guests last Friday night, Mrs Carmona gave the feature address at the Closing Ceremony at a Conference on Disability at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. The conference theme was “Towards social integration — rights, roles, recognition of persons with disabilities”, and it was hosted by disability-lobby NODES (Network and Outreach for Disability Education and Sensitisation) and UWI’s Disability Studies Unit.

In her tale, Mrs Carmona said that to celebrate Autism Awareness Day 2014, she had hosted a tree-lighting event and erected a large banner with the autism tagline, “Light it up blue” for passing motorists and pedestrians to see.

“Two days afterwards someone stole the banner,” she related. “This year we put up another beautiful banner at our second tree lighting ceremony and we never thought that lightning would strike twice, but someone stole the banner again.”

She said she was adamant the message of autism awareness must continue. “So we had another one made, but this time we nailed, glued and stapled it to a wooden post,” she quipped. “As this anecdote would demonstrate, the simple message is that we did not give up, and you must not give up in spreading awareness beyond this conference.”

Mrs Carmona pointed to other countries that had supplemented the efforts of disability-rights advocates with actual legislation, namely the Bahamas — whose “Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act 2014” she is sending to Minister of the People, Christine Newallo-Hosein — and the United States which has an “Americans with Disabilities Act”, one of whose drafters, John Wodatch, will soon visit TT.

Mrs Carmona said while persons with disabilities are now more visible that 20 years ago largely due to the activism of individuals and NGOs, more must be done against marginalisation and indifference. She hailed the forum for exploring how persons with a physical, mental or intellectual disability can fruitfully be bought into the mainstream of public and private life. “Access to education or meaningful work must become an inalienable right in any society that is concerned with genuine human development,” she urged. “It includes the way in which the physical infrastructure of our society enables access to services.

“Should we not ensure, for example, that at every traffic light in TT there is wheelchair access to the pavement and provision for the blind to cross”?

Mrs Carmona urged advocates to keep encouraging the corporate world to hire more persons with disabilities. “The differently-abled person is not in need of charity or alms, and certainly does not need your pity, but needs and rather demands opportunity, equality and genuine inclusivity.” She said the conference has become a catalyst for a concerted and unified groundswell of public opinion to garner support for those who are frail, fragile or not able to move as quickly as others.

Urging a follow-up to implement the conference’s findings, she urged, “Awareness must result in immediate action”.

Mrs Carmona hailed the conference for replacing the idea of “care” with “support”.

“The human spirit goes beyond human incapacities and we need to keep to the fore that all individuals are capable of achievement in the face of obstacles and adversity,” she remarked.

“We must not only provide structures for those who are profoundly affected by a particular impairment, but we also need to carefully assess each individual’s potential, and as a society, provide for what is necessary for advancing his or her individual self-worth and realising personal ambitions. It is only then that we will move forward towards real and effective inclusion within our society for all.”

UWI’s Film Unit coordinator, Dr Yao Ramesar, introduced a film directed by NODES chairman, Dr Antoine-Dunne, which documents the testimonies of persons who are living with disability themselves or affecting a loved one, usually a child. Remarks were offered by Dr Antoine-Dunne; UWI St Augustine deputy principal, Prof Rhoda Reddock; Confederated Disability Groups of Ireland president, Pat Clarke; and Disability Studies Unit coordinator, Dr Innette Cambridge, in her vote of thanks. Guests were entertained by songs from the UWI Arts Chorale led by Jessel Murray.


"Persistent advocacy"

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