THA Secretary of Education, Innovation and Energy Marslyn Melville-Jack says the assembly remains committed to providing the relevant support to members of the disabled community.
Melville-Jack was speaking at the Tobago leg of the Down Syndrome Family Network’s 9th Annual World Down Syndrome Conference at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex in Scarborough on Monday.
She said she is quite pleased by the many milestones achieved nationally in creating awareness and inclusion of people living with Down Syndrome.
“Each year, I am delighted to join with members of staff as we rock our socks
to raise awareness and show our support to those living with Down Syndrome. This gesture is a simple yet powerful campaign that encourages people to wear mismatched socks to represent a celebration of differences. While I applaud this initiative, what is most required is our changed attitudes, increased understanding and complete engagement in pleasant experiences for people living with Down Syndrome.”
She said this year’s theme, Connect, is relevant, since it causes one to reflect on the ways technology has become a lifeline for maintaining social and educational connections in a time when physical distancing is encouraged for survival.
She said the division’s primary focus is ensuring quality and equity in the delivery of education to all students on the island.
She said the division has dutifully fostered connections to provide the necessary resources to aid in the delivery of and access to online learning.
She also said partnering with the Digicel Foundation's Connecting You initiative affirms the division’s commitment to the disabled community. This collaboration, she said, led to 40 tablets being provided for students at the Happy Haven School and the Tobago School for the Deaf Speech and Language Impaired.
“In my capacity as the newly assigned Secretary of Education, Innovation and Energy, I pledge my own commitment to providing the relevant support to members of the differently abled community. We must work assiduously to create a level playing field so that all students, despite their differences, can attain heights of success.
"I am particularly grateful that despite the challenges of covid19, we are still able to connect, to share our ideas, knowledge and experiences and I look forward to forging deeper connections with your network in an attempt to facilitate increased learning and understanding in order to positively impact the life experiences of the differently abled.”
Founder and chairman of the Down Syndrome Family Network Fitzherbert Glen Niles said the annual conferences began in Tobago in 2013 and since then, great strides have been observed in Tobago in trying to make it a more all-inclusive society for people with disabilities. He said in the nine years, there have been a lot of changes, but said legislation is key in helping to form an inclusive society.
“Opportunities reveal potential, and if you don’t give somebody an opportunity to do something, you would never know what they could do. We need to give them the opportunity – this is not to say that there would not be the need for special schools, but this is just to say that not everybody deserves to go to a special school: there must be some distinction, there must be assessments given, and we as parents, we are the one, who have to prepare our children for school and for the workplace. We have to stop thinking that they are 'special.'" Rather, he said, these children should be given every possible chance to learn life skills to make them more independent and able to work so when opportunities come up, they would be able to read, write and work.
Presenters at the conference included president of the National Down Syndrome Congress USA Shauntel Neal-Howe; immediate past president National Down Syndrome Congress USA and medical director of the Down Syndrome Centre of Western Pennsylvania Dr Kishore Vellody; human rights lawyer and disability advocate Ria Mohammed Davidson, chairperson of the National Disability Alliance Diane Richler; and self-advocate Dewlyn Lobo.
The conversations concentrated on how society can engender an all-inclusive environment for people with Down Syndrome, as the speakers shared their experiences, knowledge and expertise, bringing perspectives from around the world.