DISABLED NEED OPPORTUNITIES
EDMUND G. HINKSON
The President of the Barbados Association for the Blind and Deaf, Mr. Elviston Maloney, recently publicly addressed the issue the general unwillingness of our Public Sector to employ visually impaired persons or to continue the employment of public workers after they lose their vision.
It can only be hoped that our Government will in the near future ratify the 2008 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as Minister Chris Sinckler has pledged will shortly be done.
It is essential that a legal framework be implemented in Barbados whereby persons with disabilities on the whole enjoy equal opportunity and treatment in the employment arena, for which they are suitably qualified. While we await official figures emanating from the recently conducted Census, it is believed that approximately ninety per cent of persons with physical disabilities are unemployed or are less than gainfully employed in our country. Our Government needs to take the lead in embarking on an employment strategy which promotes the integration of these persons, who are not mentally challenged, in open employment. This policy must co-exist with programmes which finally provide equal educational and training opportunities for persons with disabilities in a Nation which holds sacred the concept of free education from the nursery to the tertiary stage.
An enlightened Government ought to realize that employers who have given persons with disabilities an opportunity to work in areas for which they are qualified consistently agree that they are generally more productive, dedicated and inspirational employees than persons without any ostensible disabilities. Furthermore, it makes economic sense for a Government to employ persons with disabilities in positions for which they are qualified, since this would reduce the cost of disability benefits which are paid by our social security system and would reduce poverty among some of the most vulnerable persons in our society.
Mr. Maloney also spoke of the present situation whereby Government employees who lose their vision or who become in any other manner disabled, but who maintain their mental capacity, are retired disabled rather than allowed to remain in the public service. This policy ought to cease now since there are many options, including adjusting the job requirements, the workstation or the working environment or transferring the employee to a different job in the service, which could alternatively be explored. This disability management strategy ought to also include measures to re-train the employee concerned and to utilize available technology and devices to accommodate these individuals.
Finally, our Parliament urgently needs to enact Disabilities Legislation which, inter alia, introduces anti-discrimination and employment equity laws within the public service as it applies to persons with disabilities, similar to what many developed countries and countries with emerging economies have done.
Only then will persons with disabilities have any chance to realize their full potential and to contribute to national development in our island, as is the right of all of our citizens.
Edmund Hinkson, an Attorney-at-Law, is a member of the Barbados Association of the Blind and Deaf.