Equal capacity

Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, principal of UWI, St Augustine - Sureash Cholai
Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, principal of UWI, St Augustine - Sureash Cholai

IT HAS BECOME fashionable: once a year, people don mismatched socks, pose for photographs and spread awareness on social media about Down syndrome.

But when the curtain falls on the annual commemoration of World Down Syndrome Day, what becomes of efforts to advance the need for a more equitable society in which all individuals, regardless of their condition or status, enjoy the same rights?

Judging from some of the contributions made at Tuesday’s conference on this issue, it is clear there remains scope for more to be done. Prime among the areas which need attention is that pointed out by Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, principal of UWI, St Augustine, who highlighted the need for legislative support allowing people with disabilities to have legal capacity.

Prof Antoine, a lawyer by training who once served as the dean of UWI’s Faculty of Law, noted the limits of current anti-discrimination legislation, such as the underutilised Equal Opportunity Act, in handling the special issues raised by people who need the law not just to protect them, but also empower them.

“You might have well-meaning laws, which we have, but the impact or the result of it can end up being not at all progressive,” she said.

Also calling for the issue of legal capacity to be addressed was former director of the Down Syndrome Family Network Glen Niles.

“Legislation cannot enforce empathy, compassion and care, but it can enforce policies and principles to create change,” he said.

Not only is legislation the ideal route to foster change, but it is also an imperative given this country’s international obligations.

Since 2007, this country has been a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 12 of the convention recognises that people with disabilities have legal capacity on an equal basis with others. In other words, an individual cannot lose legal capacity to act simply because of a disability. (However, legal capacity can be lost in situations that apply to everyone, such as if someone is convicted of a crime.)

There is a duty on the part of the State to encourage and regulate supported decision-making, not just leave things in the hands of proxies who, in some unfortunate cases, abuse their positions of power.

Our Parliament’s committee on human rights should, as a matter of urgency, examine the need for legislative reform to allow people with disabilities to enjoy the same status enjoyed by all citizens under the law.

Otherwise, individuals in this country will continue to have their capacity to make decisions, sign contracts, vote, defend their rights in court or choose medical treatments taken away from them simply because they have a disability. That is an unimaginable reality now for too many.


"Equal capacity"

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