There should be greater accommodation within the mainstream education system for people with disabilities capable of studying.
This call came from advocate for the disabled Edmund Hinkson as he spoke to Barbados TODAY about the issue of educating the disabled in Barbados. Hinkson said while he believed people with disabilities should realize their full potential, there was an issue in delivering free education at primary and secondary levels for children with disabilities who have to pay to go to school.
The Member of Parliament for St James North commended charitable organizations such as the Maria Holder Memorial Trust and Sandy Lane Trust for offering funding to schools catering to children with disabilities. He also commended the primary and secondary schools that accommodate disabled students.
However, he said that some parents who have disabled children were often burdened with having to pay sometimes as much as $1 200 per term for their charges to attend school.
“This is something which cannot be right. If free education is the right of all Barbadians it must be the right too for children who have disabilities,” Hinkson said. He also suggested that while Barbadians must now pay tuition fees at the University of the West Indies, persons with disabilities should be rightfully exempted.
“I really feel that someone with disabilities who is eligible to attend university should not have to pay. You have to find a way whereby persons with disabilities are given an equal opportunity in this country to achieve and to fulfil their potential just like anywhere else,” Hinkson said.
“A major challenge to our educational system is how we educate or provide for the education of children with disabilities. A lot of these children do not go to mainstream schools and there are a few primary schools that accommodate children with special needs.”
In Barbados, it is estimated that one in every five persons has a mental or physical disability. Statistics also show that approximately 90 per cent of people with disabilities are unemployed.
According to Hinkson, these statistics could only be reversed if individuals were trained and educated so they could become employed, especially in the public sector where very few people with disabilities are employed.
“Government has to lead the way because our public sector employs very few persons with disabilities. In fact, if you were to [get into] an accident and you can’t work, after a year the public sector is going to send you before a medical committee set up under the National Insurance Scheme.
“Therefore you can’t work any more in Government, rather than seek to refashion your work environment to accommodate you in terms of your physical disability or to find an alternative job in the public sector in which you could be employed. You may be physically disabled but that hasn’t affected your mental capacity.”