If ever Barbados ever needed a strong reminder that there is ability in the word dis-ability, it was served up tasty reminders at the first-ever Taste My Hand Culinary Competition staged by the Barbados Council for the Disabled over the weekend.
It was simply an eye-opening, stomach-filling event, providing as much food for savouring as well as for thought on the eve of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed on Monday.
This year’s UN celebrations centered on the theme of empowering people with disabilities for an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That agenda pledges to “leave no one behind.”
There’s no doubt that as a society we have made significant strides in how we treat the differently-abled.
Certainly, fewer children are shut away in their homes, excluded from participating in society. Adults are better able to contribute to society in myriad ways. We have as sterling examples the former President of Senate Kerry Ann Ifill, who deservingly was awarded the Barbados Silver Crown of Merit in this year’s Independence honours and veteran radio broadcaster, the late ‘Uncle Carson’ Small.
And still we have a long way to go to ensure that truly no one is left behind.
The rallying call for inclusion was sound strongly by the president of the Barbados Council of the Disabled, Maria Holder-Small, who expressed concern that the inclusion of the disabled was more often than not an “afterthought”.
“We are now faced with doctors, lawyers, business leaders and other professionals acquiring disabilities and still wanting and being able to contribute to their independence,” Holder-Small declared.
Equally stirring were calls by Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies Dr Colin Depradine who argued that inclusion is a lot cheaper than separation.
“Develop and update the laws with respect to persons with disabilities,” he charged. “The creation and ratifying of the long-promised Disabilities Act will enable persons with disabilities to access accommodation in both the school and the workplace. No more excuses, no more delays, no more promise; it is time to act,” he said.
We couldn’t agree more.
Indeed, Barbados still has some way to go. Some people still have attitudes, behave or speak in ways that are unacceptable to, and discriminatory against, persons with disabilities. Transport and employment remain major hurdles for those less mobile but no less active.
This shouldn’t be so hard to address.
People with disabilities are not objects of pity, but have the same rights and dignities as the rest of society.
Disability does not discriminate. An unfortunate incident can render helpless any of us who deem ourselves to have everything intact. It is important, then, to develop a society in which everyone can lead a fulfilling life.
Just think about; if we get things right for the differently able, we get things right for everybody. Marginalizing people with disabilities and encouraging them to remain dependent is costly, not only for family members, but for the State.
They will remain a burden on welfare and their potential and skills will remain untapped.
It’s not just a matter of providing parking spaces and building ramps. It’s about true inclusion, not tokenism. If people with disabilities are empowered they can live independently and contribute to society in diverse ways.
We urge the authorities to ensure the full protection of the law to people living with disabilities and to provide opportunities and resources for them to realize their full potential.
If as a nation, we can change our mindsets and support the participation, inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities, then they will have a fair chance to be equal contributors to society and truly demonstrate that disability is not inability.