Legal rights for disabled persons

Wodatch spoke eloquently at this meeting of different disability groups and representatives, about the need to implement legislation and perhaps even more persuasively, spoke about the benefits of enacting disability legislation and of giving persons with disabilities access to education and services.

One of the interesting facts in this regard is that approximately 19 percent of persons worldwide have disabilities and these include people who actually have spending power or their families have spending power. He dispelled two prevalent myths, that persons with disabilities are necessarily poor and looking for hand-outs and that they are a great minority.

Actually targeting people who have a disability and providing physical access to these individuals and the families that accompany them can be a financial goldmine, he suggested.

In listening to Wodatch it struck me that this was a perfect ending to a conference that focussed on the rights of persons with different disabilities and that brought together these various lobbying groups. After all, Wodatch is here to lobby the government about disability legislation. As he stated at another meeting on Thursday, the most important act for our society at present in relation to persons with disabilities is ensuring that such legislation is passed.

This will come about if all the various groups band together to create a powerful lobby. Networking is therefore of ultimate importance. Wodatch has met with the President of the Republic and with the prime minister so the stage is set for such a lobby.

I asked some of the gathering at the roundtable discussion at the US embassy what they thought was the most important benefit of our conference, given the issues raised by this pioneer of disability rights. And those present, who included leadership of Persons Associated with Visual Impairment (PAVI), DEAF, which has a human rights platform, NCPD, the Consortium of Disability Organisations (CODO) and its past president Sharda Ramlakhan, persons representing those with Cerebral Palsy and many others, listed first and foremost, networking and the ability to meet with others in an environment that allowed discussion and debate.

The conference enabled exposure to issues such as the rights of persons with mental disorders to a job and to accommodations in relation to work scheduling and freedom from harassment and stigma. As Wodatch pointed out, in the United States it is illegal to even ask a person whether he or she has a disability.

Indeed at the UWI conference, one of the liveliest discussions emerged from the panel on mental disorders chaired by Dr Shirin Haque with participants Jacqueline Huggins, Nicole Cowie, Dr Sarah Chin Yuen Kee and Catriona Persad. But since the Disability Affairs Unit and other representatives from the Ministry of the People and Social Development were active participants and the Equality and Human Rights Commission was well represented, there was also significant discussion about the role and responsibility of the state. The Equality Act, in particular, became a substantial subject of debate.

The event at UWI has created widespread interest in issues such as these and we would like to think that action will follow. As one of the audience remarked on the first day of the conference and after the session on Integration and Participation, the fact that the first speaker was a young woman with Down Syndrome, Eileen Dunne, who appealed passionately to be treated as a person with rights and to be given a voice in the community, set the tone for the entire proceedings. Persons with all forms of disabilities, whether these are physical, intellectual or mental, benefit from and have a right to be part of our society and they have a right to the support systems that would allow such participation.

The provision throughout the entire conference of sign language interpreters from both the hearing community and the Deaf community also emphasised the importance of community involvement and integration. Added to this was the fact that there was an informal roundtable discussion with persons who have Autism led by Dr Frederick Felix. The conference brought together persons with disabilities, activists and educators.

However, as I look back, for me the most important issue is that of legislation. I am personally committed to any action that would move our government and our legislators to ensuring the legal rights of all persons with disabilities.


"Legal rights for disabled persons"

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