DR RADICA MAHASE
According to the Commission of the European Communities, “Social inclusion is a process which ensures that those at risk of poverty and social exclusion gain the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social, political and cultural life and to enjoy a standard of living that is considered normal in the society in which they live. It ensures that they have greater participation in decision making which affects their lives and access to their fundamental rights.”
Simply put, inclusion means providing equal access to opportunities and resources to people belonging to marginalised groups such as the special needs population.
Inclusion, at a practical level, not just in theory, is important as it is the only way to recognise the dignity, value and importance of each person. If TT was to effectively implement policies of inclusion in all areas – economic, social and political life – that would mean that the special needs population would have equal access to opportunities; there would be the equitable distribution of resources; a fair chance for people with special needs to live independent lives and an opportunity to contribute towards our country’s development. It would mean that no one is left behind.
In TT however, inclusion seems unattainable. It is more of an elusive theoretical construct. Policies for inclusion at various levels are just lovely words and terms written on “important” documents to show our international partners that we are providing for all, that every citizen is treated with dignity and respect. And we do paint a beautiful picture.
In fact, TT was one of the countries which participated in the 2020 Voluntary National Review for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the report on the UN’s website states that, “The Government of Trinidad and Tobago reiterates its commitment to ensuring that no one is left behind. We continue to promote inclusive participation of all stakeholders for the implementation of and reporting on the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
This report states that “Citizens have access to free primary and secondary education.” It also states that, “Support for the social sector and the protection of its most vulnerable citizens is achieved through the National Social Mitigation Plan, 2017-2022, and the development of a National Policy on Persons with Disabilities.”
If this is the case then why are there special-needs children who are not enrolled in schools, who have no access to any form of learning? Why is it difficult for adults with special needs to access training and employment opportunities? If our National Policy on Persons with Disabilities outlines plans for inclusion and we can include it in the UN report, then why is inclusion still not a reality in this country?
The answer to this question lies in the fact that there has not been any real focus on making TT an inclusive country by governments, past and present. It is shameful that we have children with special needs who cannot get into a school while the Inclusive Education Policy has been sitting on a shelf for ten years, with little or no attempts being made to translate it into action. It is sad that we have adults with special needs who cannot find jobs because our government has not developed a policy to give them an equal chance at being gainfully employed.
Rebecca Saloustros, author and blogger for the Rick Hansen Foundation noted that, in order to make society and our world an inclusive place, we need to create inclusive classrooms; design accessible communities (to cater to mobility, vision and hearing disabilities); make workplaces inclusive; increase disability representation and leadership in media, politics and business; and actively engage with people with disabilities/special needs. Inclusion can only become a reality when society, government, people with special needs, NGOs/stakeholders all come together to conduct research, collect data, develop and effectively implement strategies.
If the TT Government wants to truly “leave no one behind”, the driving force behind the UN 2030 Sustainable Development goals, then TT needs to understand that real inclusion has to start with policy goals. As C Busatto noted in the UN Expert Group Meeting on Creating Inclusive Society, “Inclusion is community.
No one becomes included by receiving handouts, even if these handouts are given by public bodies and with public resources. No one becomes included by being treated by a program in which they are no more than a number or a statistic.”
Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T