Sharon's 'I Am Able' Notes

Sharon Adams, a member of the Public Relations Department, Ministry of Health & the Environment was a delegate at last month’s ‘ I Am Able’ International Conference, held at St. James’s Club, Antigua and Barbuda. Sharon represented the Ministry at the Conference and in this, the first of several articles, she looks back at the historic ‘I Am Able’ gathering and examines the current state of Persons with Disabilities in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities

They are ostracized by our society, labelled as slow, retarded, handicapped and often treated less than humans, even by their own family members. Simply because they may not be able to communicate or comprehend like we do, they are viewed as an embarrassment, while others give them things out of a sense of duty rather than love.

At the recently concluded I Am Able Conference held at the St. James’s Club, many challenges facing persons living with disabilities were brought to the forefront. Over two hundred delegates assembled at the resort, many of whom are living with a disability.

Delegates came from different backgrounds, different social status, and ethnicities. They came from Antigua and Barbuda, from within the region and far beyond, from as far as Seychelles off the East African coast, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, India, and Pakistan.

The three-day sessions were extensive and covered a wide range of topics namely, discrimination, and equal access to employment, healthcare, education, and political participation. The sessions featured over twenty presenters who used the opportunity to expound on the various issues, as well as the enormous challenges faced on a daily basis by those who are differently abled.

The participants advocated the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all levels of society, locally, regionally and internationally and called upon those in authority to remove the barriers which continue to exclude those who are differently abled.

The audience’s hearts were stirred with compassion as many of those living with a disability shared their experiences. Both the negatives and positives were highlighted, as they expressed their aspirations, their adversities and their determination to succeed in spite of the odds.

Harry Chikasamba of Malawi is a disability rights advocate working with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. He shared many of his concerns for those living with disabilities.

“Young persons and government officials should engage with agencies to assess what needs to be done for persons with disabilities. Language is embedded in people’s culture, language is a carrier of culture, it expresses people’s belief in reference to persons with disability and it needs to change, no one should be labeled dumb or retarded,” he stated.

In his pronouncement, he spoke of respecting each other as human beings, and the 2030 Development Agenda of leaving no one behind.

“Everyone has to be involved, regardless of age, disability, social status, education status, or whatever avenue there is. There is a great need to start a mass campaign on the ground to ensure that people are aware of differences and diversity which cuts across the issue of gender disabilities and social status.”

He highlighted the need to move away from special needs schools.

“The education policy needs to be revisited to include every member of society, I want to propose that the government enacts or adopts this in the near future. We need to move away from special needs to inclusive education; it is not only about formal education but about lifelong learning, raising awareness as well as building the capacity by understanding other people and out of school use, “said Chikasamba

Mention was made regarding the subject of political participation and healthcare for persons with disabilities since it was the consensus that enough has not been done to include them all.

“The healthcare sector has a pivotal role to play, whether in stress management, mental health or reproductive health among young persons with disabilities. How is the healthcare system? Is it youth friendly? Disability-friendly? We need to mainstream disability as a cross-cutting issue,” he remarked.

Information was also shared regarding Malawi, where a system exists in the universities and technical colleges for persons with disabilities. A certain amount of space is allotted to them, ensuring reasonable accommodation and provision is made to exempt them from the logic, language and mathematics examination.

There are more than a hundred disabled persons in Antigua and Barbuda living in poverty, mainly because no provision is being made for them. We need to do more to get them employed. As long as they have the expertise or the technical skills necessary, they should not be denied employment. Those who are able to work should be given the opportunity to earn a living and become productive persons in their respective communities.

IF the 2030 Development Agenda – No One Left Behind - is to become reality, we need to adopt policies which will include everyone. Access to buildings must become a priority, inclusiveness in our education system, in healthcare, and in politics must not continue to be a dream for those who are advocates; it must become an everyday occurrence.

No longer should mothers abandon their babies when they are not perfect, they too must be loved, they must be cared for and given the best opportunity to be all that they can be, they must be seen as a gift from God.

All human beings in respect of gender, race or religion have certain unalienable rights, many of which were highlighted, including of which is the right to an education, the right to health care services and the right not to be discriminated against This makes the issues surrounding persons with disabilities, not one just for the government, but for civil society, faith-based organizations and service clubs. Let us all play our part to improve and raise the standard of living for Persons with Disabilities. ‘We Are ALL Able.’

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