Katherine Agong is the mother of a teenaged daughter with several disabilities.
Not going into details, she said earlier this year she felt her child was being discriminated against. Because of the training she received with the Consortium of Disability Organisations (CODO), she knew where to go to find redress.
Agong said she went to the Equal Opportunities Commission with her complaint. She said she appreciated how the people at the EOC investigated and handled the case. Unfortunately, in the end, because of a technicality her case did not fall under TT’s discrimination laws.
“But I felt really empowered to be able to stand up for my daughter’s rights. Although EOC could not say, ‘Yes this is a case of discrimination,’ it still signalled to the person, or aggressor for want of a better word, that they can’t just behave any way they want towards somebody just because they have a disability.”
Agong was one of 25 parents of children with disabilities who attended the CODO’s parent advocacy training programme from October 2017 to June 2018. The CODO hopes to deliver a shorter, modified version of the programme in October this year to even more parents, teachers, nurses, and interested people.
“We expect, by training more parents, to over time be able to create a movement for change for our children... The other objective is to create a vibrant, national parent advocacy organisation. It is going to be called Parents advocation for children with disabilities in TT.”
She spoke yesterday at a CODO meeting at the Town Hall in Port of Spain to sensitise parents to the upcoming programme.
Going into more detail about the initial programme, another parent, Michelle Harper explained, “It was presented to equip us with the tools needed to advocate for our children. It spoke on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, leadership, government arms and agency for legislation, technology for advocacy... All of these things spoke to what advocacy is and how we could use them to better the lifestyles for our children.”
She said there were also international speakers who described how they forced the hand of their governments to make policies to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. This led the CODO to identify what was available in TT, how foreign examples could be applied locally, and to rework it into a five-week programme facilitated by the parents who were already trained.
The new programme will be held simultaneously in Arima, Chaguanas, Port of Spain, and San Fernando, dealing with the topics of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, advocacy and leadership, governance, using state tools for advocacy, and using technology to power advocacy.
Parents will learn how to raise awareness, promote change in policies, about the governance structure of TT, details of the rights and protection people with disabilities have under the Constitution, how to use state tools such as social services, the ombudsman office, the equal opportunity commission, and more.
Harper said the facilitators will also enlighten participants on the services and grants offered through ministries and state agencies, and how to access the services.
She said many people believed parents with children with disabilities wanted hand outs but many parents, usually mothers who had to stay home with their disabled children, want the opportunity to work while knowing their children were in a safe environment.
“How do we get governing bodies to understand implementation of what is needed? For example we don’t want segregated education, we want inclusive education, having aids available. Health – early detection, diagnosis and intervention, physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy. How do we get those things? Where do we go and not have to bend over backwards to pay for these services? We are going to speak in terms of sensitisation to the education system. Having teachers who are more receptive, more willing, more inclusive.”
Change will only happen with advocacy.
She added that over 40 disability organisations were under the umbrella of the consortium, and it included parents because they are “the biggest component to the disability movement.”