— as International Day for Disabled Persons is observed
With road accidents being regarded one of the leading cause of disability in Guyana, there is sustained advocacy to reduce its impact. So impacting has been the scourge, that at least seven per cent of the local population has a disability. The importance of addressing disability was particularly emphasized this past weekend when International Day for People with Disability was observed the world over.
Under the theme “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development”, local efforts through the National Commission on Disability (NCD) was amplified with a call to members of the public to remember their role in the implementation of the crucial Persons with Disability Legislation which came into being last year. Administrative Officer of the NCD, Beverly Pile underscored that there is a need for members of the public to ensure that “we are all working for and alongside persons with disabilities to achieve inclusive, sustainable and equitable development in Guyana and attain together a better world for all.”
According to the United Nations persons with disabilities make up an estimated 15 per cent of the world’s population and almost one-fifth of the estimated global total of persons living with disabilities, or between 110-190 million, encounter significant difficulties. Furthermore, a quarter of the global population is directly affected by disability, as care-givers or family members.
Further it was noted that persons with disabilities encounter many disadvantages in their societies and are often subjected to stigma and discrimination. They remain largely marginalized, disproportionately poorer, frequently unemployed and have higher rates of mortality. Additionally, they are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society.
Experience shows that when persons with disabilities are empowered to participate and lead the process of development, their entire community benefits, as their involvement creates opportunities for everyone – with or without a disability. “Including persons with disabilities and their communities in developmental efforts is important to advance the development agenda,” the UN has asserted.
In this regard, it has been cited as imperative that development efforts around the world include disability issues when determining policies, programmes, as well as allocating funds for developmental programmes and projects. Furthermore, mainstreaming disability in development is a strategy for achieving equality for persons with disabilities, the United Nations has highlighted.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for instance, which is both a human rights treaty and a development tool, speaks to the need for providing an opportunity to strengthen developmental policies related to the implementation of internationally agreed development goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), thereby contributing to the realization of a “society for all” in the 21st century.
Here in Guyana, the effectiveness of the Disability Act, which was assented to by President Bharrat Jagdeo on November 2, last year, is already being realised, according to the NCD Administrative Officer. During an interview with this newspaper, she recounted one occasion when a young wheelchair-bound woman was able to use the Act to ensure that she was given a judicial ear.
“Because she was in a wheel chair she could not get into the court room and so the magistrate came down to her…and she was heard.” This development represents the power of the new Act, Pile said, noting that with its implementation, differently-able persons with varying levels of disabilities have rights catering to their respective challenges under the law.
And efforts have already been engaged, Pile revealed, to ensure that such persons are aware that there are legal provisions which can protect them from being discriminated against. According to her, there will be more scope for employment, education, recreations and even transportation for persons living with disabilities.
At the moment, Pile disclosed, that the NCD is tasked with sensitising the general public to ensure that not only the target group are the ones informed that the legislation exists. “The entire public, even those who do not have disabilities, business owners, students, everybody has to know…We will also have to monitor and assess the adherence to this Act to ensure that it is recognised in every part of this country. This Act is not for Georgetown alone, it is for the entire country,” she insisted.
The NCD had devoted the first quarter of this year to raising attention to the compliance of the Act through workshops, meetings, panel discussions and other public forums.
It was early last year that Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, had expressed optimism that within a matter of months the Disability Bill was slated to become a full fledge Act, paving the way for the rights of persons living with disabilities to be acknowledged on a national scale.
The Minister was even then appointed Chairman of a Special Select Committee to further deliberate on the Bill before it could have become law. And since there were not many differences of opinion on the Bill, there were no obstructions preventing it from evolving into an Act.
The Disability Bill was introduced several years ago by the Minister himself but was only read in Parliament for the first time in November of 2009.
Minister Ramsammy had revealed to this newspaper that although the Bill was listed among the priority legislations in 2009, it had to be modified before reaching Parliament. The legislation was submitted to Cabinet sometime prior but some major concerns were highlighted at that level.
The initial draft legislation had called for every disabled person to become the responsibility of the state; that they are provided with housing and will no longer be required to pay bills. However, in its current state, the Act will cater to the provision of certain rights for persons with disabilities, including the promotion, protection and full equal enjoyment of those rights.
It is also intended to facilitate the enforcement of the rights and eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability even as it serves to provide for the welfare and rehabilitation for such persons.
In addition, the legislation will provide for the registration of persons with disabilities through the already established National Commission on Disabilities.
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