THE NEED FOR DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
The Prime Minister, during the course of his recent address to the Fully Accessible Barbados awards ceremony, reiterated his Government’s stated commitment to improving the socio-economic welfare of the 14,000 odd persons with disabilities residing in Barbados. In this regard, Parliament as a matter of priority needs to enact into our local legislation the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force on 3rd May, 2008 and to which Barbados is a signatory. This Convention commits the signatory states thereto to observe a wide range of broad principles which ultimately seek to guarantee the full and equal enjoyment without discrimination of universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities. The Convention also seeks the promotion of respect for the physical and mental integrity of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.
Barbados would then be committed to submit to the United Nations a comprehensive report every four years on measures taken to give effect to its obligations under the Convention and on the progress made in improving the lives of its citizens with disabilities. The Government would also be obliged to make these reports available to the public and to allow the public to make suggestions and recommendations on the issue.
Parliament can opt to ratify this Convention as a Schedule to a comprehensive Disabilities Act. This legislation ought to address, among other policy issues, the existing practices and legal framework in our country which hinder the educational and vocational development of persons with disabilities and which ultimately affect their ability to obtain employment.
Furthermore, such a Disabilities Act also needs to make provision for affirmative legislation in Barbados forcing government departments and statutory corporations to employ suitably trained and capable persons with disabilities in positions for which they are qualified. Additionally, the regime of concessions needs to be expanded to provide revenue incentives to the private commercial sector to employ persons with disabilities. Funds and technical expertise need to be specifically made available by the state to facilitate the establishment of cottage industries by persons with disabilities so that they can employ themselves more readily than is presently the position.
This legislation is also required to address issues relating to the social security benefits, housing, public transportation, cultural development and access to the built physical environment as they relate to persons with disabilities. Remedies would need to be made available for breaches of these recommended laws.
Persons with disabilities comprise some of the most socially and economically vulnerable in our society. Barbadians needs to address these and other issues relating to the advancement of basic human rights of its persons with disabilities if we are serious about becoming the smallest developed country in the foreseeable future.
EDMUND G. HINKSON
Mr. Edmund Hinkson is the former deputy chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities