A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.
–– William Arthur Ward, former American author and inspirational speaker.
Elsewhere in this edition of Barbados TODAY –– Page 17 to be exact –– letter writer Boneta Philips, who is a wheelchair user, tells of her challenges manoeuvring our sidewalks –– with hurdles like “plant pots, garbage bins, benches, building debris, and large cracks and holes”, and reminds us of our national commitment to securing an environment that is right for us all, including the disabled.
Indeed, every Barbadian has the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being, and everyone of us has a responsibility to contribute in whatever little way we can to this laudable state or condition. And since the buildings in which we live and the streets on which we drive or walk are an elemental part of our environment, the conclusion must be that we should expect nothing less than safety and comfort in their use.
It is upon this premiss we have built the imperative that as much as our environment ought to be safe, secure, functional and enjoyable for the able-bodied, which conditions are taken for granted by this group of people, this habitat ought as well to accommodate as comfortably as is possible the disabled among us. And it has been on this resolve that the Government and people of Barbados have pledged consideration, thought, especial care and upgraded facility for our challenged brothers and sisters.
Regrettably, we have not done as well as we have committed ourselves to. Sidewalks are yet too small and some quite difficult to access. Some public buildings are yet unapproachable by the overtly disabled. And some people –– too busy as they think they are –– are yet opposed to adults with disabilities getting around in their midst –– frankly, getting in their way. They remain unmindful or ignorant of the fact they themselves could one day become disabled, and yearn for understanding.
The hard cold truth is developmental disabilities can befall anyone at any time, and we would hardly want, in such a case, to be sidelined by those with whom we once jostled and shared civic amenities.
We would like to think that the majority of Barbadians are open-minded, and endeavour to be gentle and fair to the disabled among us. And we empathize with the continual appeal to the hearts and souls of us all to treat the disabled with dignity and recognize their talents and varying abilities, which may be drawn upon for their own benefit and to the good of the community. After all, “disabled”, by simple definition, is merely being unable to perform one or more tasks with the ease the rest of the population can –– without absolute need of other human support or ancillary help.
We might need to review our imagery of disabled as being crippled –– and thus useless. We must continue to take care we do not discriminate against the disabled on the ground of physical ability of the body at the exclusion of notice of the disabled’s high intelligence and education.
As we have implied above, it doesn’t take much to be disabled. It only takes a head unjury to suffer short-term memory loss or a stroke, for example, and to be unable to a good degree not to be able to function as you used to. Impairment, temporary though it may be, cannot be the reason for banishing into the shadows those who will draw upon more effort in the things they can. They demand of us acknowledgement, allowance and respect. And that is what we swore to give.
Even those of us who who cannot read small print could be considered disabled; we have an impairment to some degree. We may use a magnifying glass, or perhaps we have corrective glasses without which we will be lost.
The point is we must eradicate any societal thinking that conjures up pity, isolation for the disabled of any kind, and bother and contempt from the able-bodied of sorts. Let us emphasized the positive possibilities.