The National United Society of the Blind is urging employers to provide more job opportunities for its members.
At a panel discussion hosted by the organization yesterday at the Garrison headquarters of the Barbados Council for the Disabled, Senator Kerry-Ann Ifill insisted that blind or visually impaired people were able to function effectively with the use of assistive technology.
“Technology has levelled the field for persons with disabilities in a way that nothing else has. It gives us the opportunity to work alongside our peers at maximum potential.
“However, if we [disabled people] do not utilize these tools that are out there, if we’re not aware of them, if we do not embrace them, if we do not encourage others to ensure that we are provided with them, then we cannot fulfil our mandate,” she warned.
Ifill, who is also the President of the Senate, argued that visually impaired persons could be found in occupations across the world, but there was still a misconception that they were incapable of doing the smallest of tasks.
“Persons with disabilities don’t drop from Mars. We’re products of the society in which we live,” she said, adding, “we as persons with disabilities have contributions to make and we have responsibilities. It is not about people doing us a favour. Some of us have to get away from that thinking.”
Human Resources Manager at the Barbados Workers Union Gillian Alleyne told the gathering that employers were often fearful of hiring the disabled.
“There are certain types of disabilities that employers embrace more readily than others,” she stated, adding “we fear what we don’t know, so somebody . . . may say, ‘oh somebody with a wheel chair, we have ramps’, so that is not scary for them because they do it for a member of the public who is wheel chair bound so they can do it for a member of the staff.
“Dealing with someone who is visually impaired is scarier for employers, “Alleyne argued.
She suggested that companies “sometimes think the costs will be so great, [or] the trouble that they have is so great that they don’t want to go there”.
The union representative called for more Government policies to be implemented, which speak to integration of the disabled into the workforce, saying “before disability policies only looked at social welfare and social protection, so Governments were satisfied as long as they had an invalidity benefit or disablement benefit . . . that all was well with the world, but what does that do?
“That makes you feel as if you are just sitting collecting money, but you have so much to contribute.”
Alleyne stressed that a modern Barbados could not be satisfied that it has failed to take steps to “recognize that whether you are blind, whether you have a hearing impairment . . . that you can contribute meaningfully to society”.