So, today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year’s theme is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want.” The 17 Goals are in reference to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and the role of the goals in building an more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.( UN.org )
But how does T & T really stack up against these goals and against the spirit and letter of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
Yes, Trinidad ratified the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on June 25, 2015. That is a big first step, BUT it is only a first step. We made another step a year later on June 6, 2016 when the Consortium of Disability Organizations (CODO) meet with the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament to discuss challenges faced by persons with disabilities (PWD’s) in accessing services provided by the T & T Government (video here). Members of the disability community got chance to speak on areas such as health, employment, education, accessibility and legislation.
One really important recommendation that was made that the existing National Policy on Persons with Disabilities be reviewed and brought closely in line with the CPRD. So, that is two big steps forward, right?
Not so fast…..here comes the one step back. In end of October 2016, the T & T disability community received a new Draft of National Policy with Person with Disabilities. Note, I did not say the community was included on a committee to make suggestions about the policy’s improvement. I said, we received an already re-drafted policy to make comments on. We were then given only three weeks to comment on said policy in writing. THREE WEEKS FOR BOOK-SIZE DOCUMENT. Oooo000kay, so much for policy-making that includes persons with disabilities from the beginning.
And, then the disability community began to read and analyze said policy. I don’t know what I can diplomatically and kindly say about the numerous shortcomings of that policy. My colleague, Dr. Jean Antoine, can and did it much better than I ever could in her articles in the Trinidad Newsday, Part 1 and Part 2. All I can say for me, personally, is that at the end of the whole review exercise, I felt like I needed a massage, chocolate, cheesecake, a stiff drink and my bed. The whole policy was filled with so much errors and misinformation that it was a tiring task to review at best. It was obvious that whoever did that draft did not have the input of persons with disabilities in doing that draft in the first place. I hope they get it right by the next time, the disability community has to consult on this policy again ( because we surely sent in some stiff comments.)
And so, this is symptomatic of how I generally feel about how Trinidad and Tobago is really doing in our journey to a society that is inclusive of persons with disabilities.
TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK (or even two depending on the situation)
We can start off, the week on Sunday with the hopeful headline Blind Woman Pursues Ph.D. at UWI but sink so low just one day later to the headline, Vote Denied: No Wheelchair Access and no one helped. So a few of us are getting to the highest level of education but we still are denied access to vote.
We gain progress a bit but that progress is eroded in other areas. I don’t have the time or the space in this post to talk about all the areas but continue to read this blog and you will find out. It can make one really frustrated at times to talk about it but I think that we, as community choose to continue to fight for our rights.
So besides, the Draft National Policy dropping in November, something else happened in November that gives me a bit of hope. Disability organizations and activists, under the auspices of CODO, have come together to form the first Trinidad and Tobago UN CRPD Steering Committee. Our purpose to monitor and comment on how the Trinidad and Tobago Government honours its commitment to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have committed ourselves to produce that report by June 2017.
So, in short, how do I feel about how Trinidad and Tobago is moving towards an inclusive society on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities? Mixed but hopeful. Frustrated but fighting. And ultimately, Trinidad and Tobago’s community of persons with disabilities, will continue to move forward ever and get to the point of backwards never.