Sharon's 'I Am Able' Notes Part 4

Sharon Adams, a member of the Public Relations Department, Ministry of Health & the Environment, continues to examine the state of the Differently Abled in Antigua and Barbuda. Sharon represented the Ministry at last month’s ‘I Am Able’ Conference.


It is the start of a brand new year, 2018. For some, it’s a time of resolutions, reminiscing on past mistakes and setting goals. For those with deep pockets it maybe some new investment `opportunities. But amidst all of that, there are others who may have already embarked upon some get rich schemes as they plot and prey upon the greedy or vulnerable persons in the society.

To all the God-fearing men and women serving in the various organizations, whether friendly societies or church-based groups, do not be weary in well-doing. You are making a difference to someone in need; your contribution to society is invaluable. If each one helps one, together we can continue to make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate.

To those on the fence, this is a new year with new opportunities to serve humanity. Let us demonstrate to the world that we care, let us be committed to serve in whatever areas we can. If we pool our resources we can alleviate many of the sufferings within the communities. Our services are needed especially within the vulnerable groups.

Over the years these groups have expanded by leaps and bounds. Among these groups are the aged, disabled, alcoholics, homeless men and women along with those living with HIV and chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and renal failure.

Those who are of the disabled or differently abled population are the most vulnerable of the groups. They are often cast aside and are living way below the poverty line but it is time to make a change. The time has come for us to pay much closer attention to them, it is time to start treating them like human beings. They are capable of doing a lot more if they are given the opportunity.

For the hundreds of persons living with a disability in Antigua and Barbuda, the struggles are real, the intense poverty-stricken conditions in which they are forced to endure needs to change. The government cannot do it alone. All of us need to acquire a heart of compassion. To all who are blessed financially, please dig deep into your pockets and give to those in need. To all who are otherwise, you can volunteer your time and talents to help them to earn a living.

Our response should be positive and urgent in an effort to bring relief in the lives of the many differently abled persons who are suffering. All such changes must reflect those who are differently abled in the society. However before change can be achieved, we must raise the level of awareness and give greater attention to all without exception. But without a change in policy and legislation, all of our efforts will be futile.

Building codes must be properly regulated and frequently monitored. The law must make it mandatory for buildings to be equipped with wheelchair accessibility. No longer should persons be allowed to construct buildings without a lift in Antigua and Barbuda. Places of business, whether government or private, should have designated parking spaces for those living with a disability.

Many of the ills facing the differently abled persons in our nation were brought to light at the recently held I ‘Am Able’ International conference in Antigua. One of those addressing the audience was Ambassador Dr. Aubrey Webson, a distinguished son of the soil who is Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative Ambassador to the United Nations and a person living with a disability.

“We have work to do in terms of the terminology we use when referring to differently abled individuals. Language such as dumb, blind, retarded or handicapped should no longer be used. In order to accomplish this, the language or culture of persons within the society need to be changed. In terms of transportation, we need to have modernized buses which can accommodate them.” revealed Webson.

He also mentioned tourism as a potential source of revenue for Persons Living with Disabilities throughout the nation.

Changes need to take place and change does not just come from people who you know. The biggest potential employer in the region is tourism, yet we are not using the industry to benefit those living with disabilities. We need to include them especially in the area of art and craft he said.

It is well-established fact that those who are differently abled are underutilized, ignored, pitied and mocked even by the very persons who should care. Babies are often left at hospitals by mothers once it is discovered that there is something abnormal about him or her.

In Antigua and Barbuda, there are two main facilities catering to the needs of persons with disabilities. One is the National Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre (NVRCD) for Persons with Disabilities, the other is the Care Project. Both institutions are financed by the taxpayers of this country.

It is time for the cruelty and abandonment embedded within our society to end. As human beings, we need to display empathy and love to all, instead of cruelty, try compassion, try to lend a helping hand whenever and wherever possible. All differently abled persons have issues and needs, not problems.

We are united under one umbrella -human rights. In Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, it states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.”

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