… as Int’l Day for Persons with Disabilities observed
“It has been five years and little progress has been made,” said Executive Member at the Guyana Society for the Blind, Ganesh Singh, of the Disability Act which was signed into law on November 2, 2010.
Singh, during an interview with this publication, disclosed that the Society is calling on the relevant authorities, the Government in particular, to ensure that the content of the Act is fully implemented.
Singh pointed out that with the exception of the education sector, there has not been significant progress in any other areas. He noted that while it is expected that implementing the content of the Act could be lengthy, more efforts must be directed in this regard.
Based on the 2002 Census, the blind and visually impaired population is the largest minority group, but according to Singh, “yet still our issues are neglected most times. Policymakers look at us still as objects of charity; they feel if they do one good deed we should shut up and stay in a corner and we don’t want that. We want our rights to be fulfilled so that we can be as productive as everybody else.”
According to President of the Society, Cecil Morris, it has been far too long that persons with disabilities are seen as having a “charity-based existence.” It is for this reason, he noted, that deliberate efforts are being made by the Blind Society to empower young persons with disabilities.
“We have been trying to educate them, getting them off to start their tertiary education and that kind of thing so that they can have their rightful place in society,” Morris said.
But according to him, “over the years it has been a struggle to get people to understand the position of persons with disabilities, in terms of what it is we want in this life, what it is we are looking to achieve and that kind of thing.”
Morris is concerned that the struggle could continue for some time with constant campaigns and no action. He however asserted that “we are not asking for anything special, we are simply asking for what is due to us…we are not begging for anything.”
Rosemary Ramit, a member of the Society, who was among the first batch of blind/visually impaired students to write the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination, also vocalised her concern about the delay in having the Disability Act take its rightful place.
The Act, she emphasised, is one that will contribute to people with disability having an independent and meaningful life.
“If you have that implementation then you could have more persons out there having access to information, to buildings, education, health, recreational and other facilities…that is the main thing that we want,” insisted Ramit.
She is hopeful that persons with disabilities will not have to wait another five years before the content of the Act takes effect.
As a volunteer and fervent advocate for the rights of persons who are blind and visually impaired, Ms Theresa Pemberton, is also calling for measures to be swiftly put in place to make easier the lives of disabled persons.
“What I would like to see is managers and businesses having more confidence in employing persons with disabilities. You find that there is a big lack in persons living with disabilities being able to perform in capacities that they can perform in,” said Pemberton.
But this can only be remedied, she believes, with Government’s intervention.
“They have to take it and run with it. Persons living with disabilities are still persons; you have to look at the individual and not their disabilities, and then you will see who they are and that they are very much equipped to deal with what they have to,” Pemberton asserted.
The concerns of the members of the Society were expressed yesterday as International Day for Persons with Disabilities was being commemorated.
Since 1992 the United Nations has recognised December3 as International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Guyana about seven years ago started to commemorate this day too with a week of activities. This year a weeklong observance is being held under the theme “inclusion matters; access and empowerment for people of all abilities.”
“We really want to emphasise on accessibility of persons with disabilities to buildings to information in formats such a Braille, audio and sign language…places must have ramps and elevators to accommodate people in wheelchairs and also we must have access to a meaningful education and access to independent living, meaning we should not be dependent on anybody. Systems should be in place so that we can live as independent as possible,” said Singh.
The aim of the observance is usually to raise awareness about the rights and abilities of persons with disabilities across the world.
“We have a number of activities planned with the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities, which we are all a part of,” said Singh who revealed that on Sunday last, church services were held to kick-start the commemoration.
And, according to him, attempts to sensitise the public are being done through the distribution of awareness materials and a strategic media campaign. A capacity-building workshop today has been planned for young leaders with the view of helping them to understand how they too can influence needful change within their respective organisations and even externally.
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