THE EDITOR: In the Caribbean there are over one million people living with some form of disability and this amounts to more than the population of certain countries in the sub-region.
Across the Caribbean, people with disabilities face discrimination and exclusion. Social exclusion is caused by underlying systemic barriers that limit the meaningful participation of people with disabilities in social, economic and political life. People with disabilities have lower outcomes in education, employment and health compared to other population groups.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only ten per cent of people with disabilities in the Caribbean are employed. This leads to people with disabilities more likely to live in poverty and experience higher rates of violence.
The onset of the covid19 pandemic further compounded this situation, deepening the challenges faced by people with disabilities. UNESCO adds that meaningful inclusion and participation of people with disabilities is crucial for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with the effort of leaving no one behind.
Advancing legislation for, with and by people with disabilities in the Caribbean is also necessary to protect and promote human rights, in line with the international commitments made through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Too often the narrative and discussions surrounding disability awareness and rights are rooted in a perspective from the able-minded community and this is problematic. The time is now for the policies concerning disability rights to be led by those who are living this reality.
We often view disability as a problem and as such we fail to see the abilities of those individuals who are so labelled. It is rather unfortunate that in many societies people with disabilities continue to face social and financial isolation, in addition to the other forms of barriers that hinder their full potential.
One burning issue within the disabled community is that of access to public buildings. In too many instances there are no ramps for wheelchairs or for designated parking. For example, in many of our schools and churches there is great difficulty for those who use a wheelchair to gain access to these buildings. In fact, access is almost impossible given that ramps are not available.
Much more work is needed in these areas to ensure inclusivity and access. There is need for a cultural shift that will inevitably lead to the acceptance that we all have a disability. This paradigm shift is urgently needed in order to foster a culture of inclusivity and promote disability awareness.