Advocates: National Disability Legislation Needed

Friday 20 December 2019 Tyrell Gittens
Published by Trinidad and Tobago NEWSDAY

PROPER legislation needs to be implemented alongside the 2017 National Policy for Persons with Disabilities. This position was taken by disability and special need advocates, at the UWI Network and Outreach for Disability Education and Sensitisation (NODES) symposium, on Thursday at the UWI’s Centre for Language and Learning (CLL).

Lawyer and UWI lecturer Ria Davidson, who dissected the policy, said, “A lot of the policy objectives can only be accomplished if we were to enact some sort of national disability legislation…because the policy looks at legislation as one of the main methods of implementing its contents.”

She said policy objectives like creating a national monitoring body for people with disabilities and enforcing mandatory guidelines to make spaces more accessible to them would require legislation.

StacyAnn La Roche, mother with a child with special-needs spoke about her concerns, during the discussion segment, the symposium on the discussion on the national policy for persons with disabilities, hosted by NODES.

The 2017 policy is a revision of the 2005 National Policy on Persons with Disabilities. It reflects the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which was ratified by the TT Government in June 2015.

The policy seeks the assurance of full human rights to people with disabilities and special needs.

Independent senator and special needs advocate Paul Richards said inaction by this country’s politicians had stalled progress in achieving inclusive legislation for people with disabilities.

He said the inability of the education system to properly serve the needs of students with disabilities and special needs was an example of that inaction.

“We have a stated inclusive policy in TT but if you go into most general education settings, there are no special education teachers. There are no support systems and there are no standard relation protocols.”

He said student support services were providing services in the absence of proper legislative framework with very few resources.

“If you do not have an education minister or cabinet that thinks this is as important, as roads and bridges and polymer 100 notes, it would not change.

“If it is important to the cabinet and to the minister of education, he can advocate for the kind of changes to a modern system that we demand and we have earned we will not see changes.”

He also said a collective effort by disability advocacy groups will be more successful in pushing for legislative change.

“My personal perspective is that the law (on disability) must change.

“I think one of the challenges, being faced in TT (to make this change happen), is the number dispersed (advocacy) groups in the special needs arena. In the 13 categories (of disabilities) there are several individual groups in each category. In terms of the disabilities organisations there are just too many speaking from different perspectives.”

Glen Niles, founder of the Down Syndrome Family Network (DSFN), joined the call for stronger legislation, saying, “Give me a strong piece of legislation for my son to have a better future.

“From the time my son was born, I was told all the things that he would not be able to do. Nobody gave me that little light at the end of the tunnel of what was possible for him.”

Niles said proper legislation that helps include people with disabilities and special needs can help them reach their full potential.

Listing successful individuals with disabilities he added, “There are a lot of other examples here in TT but these self advocates never got the opportunity to reveal their potential because they are ‘special.’

“The time we label them as being special, we stop thinking about what they can possibly do and start thinking about all the things they cannot do. We are actually the ones that prevent them from doing it.”

Dr Beth Harry launched her book, Childhood Disability, Advocacy, and Inclusion in the Caribbean: A Trinidad and Tobago Case Study, at the symposium. The book explores the Immortelle Children’s Centre – a private school that has served children with disabilities in TT.

Nicole Cowie Mental Health & Disability Activist, spoke during a panel discussion, alongside Senator Paul Richards, at the symposium on the discussion on the national policy for persons with disabilities, hosted by NODES.

NODES 19th December 2019 Symposium. Mrs Nicole Cowie, Mental Health and Disability Activist

Advocates: National Disability Legislation Needed