Special needs

Dr Radica Mahase and Member of Parliament for Mayaro, Rouston Paray at an autism book launch. - Sataish Rampersad
Dr Radica Mahase and Member of Parliament for Mayaro, Rouston Paray at an autism book launch. - Sataish Rampersad

TODAY we join the world in observing the International Day for People with Disabilities.

However, we do so amid mounting challenges for people with disabilities. Not enough progress has been made to address the most basic of needs.

Recent governments have sought to convey their concern about this issue through a range of measures. The disability allowance remains on the books. State buildings have been made easier to access. This year, work has been done on pavements in the capital city to make them wheelchair-friendly.

These are steps in the right direction.

But when we take a closer look, it is clear the State is still miserably failing people with disabilities. For example, wheelchair access should be a basic feature of the cityscape.

Other basic features, meanwhile, are missing in action. Audio warnings at pedestrian crossings are absent or malfunctioning. Many of the call buttons are not well maintained.

Not only is the State failing, but sometimes the approach is positively backward.

There’s no better instance of this when we consider the fact that it was only this year that the entity known as the TT Association for Retarded Children was able to change its name to something more appropriate: Lady Hochoy Centres of TT.

The association was incorporated in 1961 by way of an ordinance, but it was only in July of this year that Parliament passed an act changing its name at the request of the body. This was even though it has been decades since “retarded” has been recognised as an offensive term.

But the challenges go beyond questions of nomenclature or street crossings.

For those with developmental disabilities, the problem can start with diagnosis.

As recently noted by Newsday columnist Dr Radica Mahase, the founder and director of Support Autism T&T, the simple process of getting an appointment with a development paediatrician can stretch anywhere between five and 18 months.

Many parents wait that long only to encounter interns who cannot properly assess their child.

As for those seeking to have their children assessed for conditions such as dyslexia, the costs of doing so privately can be prohibitive and standards are inconsistent.

If someone is properly assessed and identified, the next hurdle is treatment.

Our education system is notorious when it comes to the question of whether there are enough teachers skilled in dealing with children with special needs. Meanwhile, parents cannot apply for teacher’s aides or special examination concessions without a formal diagnosis and various kinds of assessments.

This week, Special Olympics TT was given a new home at Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella, thanks to both the State and the private sector.

An even better gift would be a society that fully acknowledges the rights of those who are different.


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