Enact Disabilities Legislation Now
EDMUND G. HINKSON
Heartiest congratulations to Miss Kerry-Ann Ifill on her elevation to the Presidency of our Country’s Upper Parliament. This highly deserved honour bestowed on one of our most outstanding citizens will hopefully help positively change some attitudes which perceive persons with disabilities as possessing limitations preventing them from being able to participate in a wholesome life. Many others besides President Ifill in the community of differently-abled persons also have the talent, mental ability, capacity and acumen to contribute significantly to the governance of our Nation.
Our Government however now needs to go much further in how it treats to persons with disabilities. It continues to fail to ratify and enact into internal legislation the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was signed by Barbados in July, 2007 and came into force on 3rd May, 2008. Successive Ministers of Social Care in this present administration have promised to bring this Convention to Parliament for ratification, without yet having done so.
On 18th January, 2009, then Minister of Social Care Chris Sinckler was quoted in another section of the Press as saying that “we are just short on bringing that bill to Parliament”. He then identified the main delay as Government itself having to meet the conditionalities contained within the document. He announced that a study was being conducted at the level of the UWI to find out what obstacles prevented people with disabilities from obtaining employment in both the public and private sector. In July, 2009 this Minister reported that this study’s recommendations had been received and were being examined by the Social Safety Net Committee.
It is therefore an absolute shame that this Month of the Disabled the present Minister of Social Care, Steve Blackett, responded to the appeal for an affirmative action policy to ensure that more persons with disabilities are employed, certainly within the public service, by stating that “ I could turn my attention to something like that”. His Ministry ought to have approved this policy initiative a while ago.
This DLP administration has procrastinated for too long on the absolute necessity of legally empowering the over five per cent of our population who have disabilities. While we still continue to await official figures emanating from the Census which was conducted two years ago, it is believed that approximately 90 per cent of persons with disabilities are unemployed or are less than gainfully employed in our country.
It is imperative that Disabilities Legislation, based on the provisions of this United Nations Convention, be passed in our Parliament without any further delay, interalia outlawing all forms of discrimination at work on the basis of disability. Such legislation also needs to facilitate the employment of disabled individuals in capacities for which they are qualified, through affirmative action programmes that favour them. Incentives can be offered to private sector employers to hire persons with disabilities. Furthermore, such differently-abled persons ought to receive favourable treatment in their quest to become self-employed. This legislation needs to also stipulate that the disabled may not be excluded from mainstream education systems in Barbados, in an era where there is still no legal right to free education for many children with disabilities. Equal educational and training opportunities must be provided as of right to the differently-abled as a part of an employment strategy which promotes their integration into the workforce.
It can only be hoped that Miss Ifill’s elevation to constitutional prominence serves as an impetus for the present political administration to legally empower persons with disabilities so that they have a real opportunity to realize their full potential and to contribute to national development, as ought to be the right of all our citizens.
Edmund Hinkson, BLP St. James North Candidate, is a member of the Association for the Blind and Deaf.