More work to be done
There has been much good work over many years to expand opportunities for and better integrate disabled Bahamians into the broader community. Various individuals and charitable organizations are noteworthy for their contributions in this important work.
Among the aforementioned are organizations such as Abilities Unlimited, the Bahamas National Council for Disability, the Bahamas Association for the Physically Disabled, the Physically Challenged Children’s Committee and others.
Various social outreach groups, service clubs and businesses have likewise provided generous financial and material assistance to persons with disabilities.
A number of intrepid individuals have also lent their considerable time, talents and other resources. They include, note worthies such as Sheila Culmer, Sir Durward Knowles, Drexel Deal, Harold Longley and Dr. Patrick Whitfield. We recall too the work of others now deceased including Sir Etienne Dupuch, Shirley Oakes-Butler and Beryl Hanna.
Still, despite past accomplishments and the work of many individuals and organizations, there is considerable work to be done to enhance the integration of and to better utilize the gifts and energies of more individuals with disabilities.
There is work to be done in the areas of public education, elimination of discrimination, better access to economic and training opportunities and other measures. After years of rhetoric, many disabled persons and their families have grown tired of what they feel are promises without action.
As with any group seeking fuller integration into society, disabled persons are still their own best advocates. They should continue to agitate for change and opportunity. The aforementioned can be enhanced through better coordination and networking among disability organizations.
The government proposes to introduce long delayed but welcomed legislation, namely, The Persons with Disabilities(Equal Opportunities)Act. The legislation is geared towards further reducing discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Former president of the Bahamas National Council for Disability Sheila Culmer toldThe Nassau Guardianthat discussions surrounding the rights of the disabled have been ongoing for the last 20 years.
She noted that the legislation will”make it unlawful to discriminate against persons with disabilities in connection with education, employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services and the disposal or management of premises, to make provisions in respect of the employment of persons with disabilities, to establish a national disabilities right commission and for connected purposes.”
Mrs. Culmer also indicated that”education, transportation and accessibility to public buildings were key issues she hopes the bill addresses. For our part, we hope that 2011 is the year that landmark legislation for the disabled is finally passed after many years of delay by successive governments.
To be effective, such legislation must be accompanied by the provision of resources for its enforcement and enablement. Such legislation should cause individual Bahamians including business owners to consider how their attitudes and practices are supporting or helping to end discrimination towards our disabled citizens.