Disability-rights advocates and activists from across the region sent the strong message that any decisions pertaining to their human rights, inclusion, and freedom from violence, must ensure they are seated at the table.
This was the tone as over 60 delegates from 10 Caribbean countries recently took part in a consultation, with the aim of shedding light on barriers and advances towards inclusion, participation, and freedom from violence for persons with disabilities.
Participants, attending the hybrid forum at UN House in Barbados as well as online, included representatives from Governments and organizations of persons with disabilities, as well as renowned regional disability-rights advocates.
The all-day session provided a constructive environment to highlight barriers that limit persons with disabilities in the Caribbean from leading independent, productive lives, despite their multiple skills.
It also served to explore steps towards true inclusion and enhanced participation, be it the establishment of quotas to ensure employment opportunities, increased access to assistive technology and devices, or systematic training of key workers in the health and social protection systems about disability rights and inclusion.
Didier Trebucq, UN Resident Coordination for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, noted that “this consultation served to better understand the lived experience of persons with disabilities, as well as to identify good practices, examples of measures undertaken or needed and to envisage opportunities for enhanced UN’s work and support in the coming years”.
Dr. Floyd Morris, Special Rapporteur for Disabilities for CARICOM, and member of the Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) highlighted that there are several rights enshrined in the Convention, such as rights to shelter, food, healthcare, or independent living.
He noted that “the CPRD has strong human rights and developmental components – with emphasis on education and ensuring persons with disabilities are empowered to live their own lives without discrimination”.
In her virtual address to the forum, Zinzee Noel, a Youth Disability Advocate from Grenada, underlined that all persons with disabilities bring a unique understanding to these gatherings.
She recognized that consultations like this are a “powerful step towards a society that believes that all people are born equal.”
Zinzee cited the words of Nelson Mandela that “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” and invited participants to take action to ensure this is achieved.
Director of the National Disabilities Unit in Barbados, John Hollingsworth, noted that Barbados was going through reforms across key sectors to improve the support available to persons with disabilities.
In addition to existing initiatives, he said that efforts were underway to provide greater access to services, including during emergencies, improve data collection and increase public sensitization, among others.
Speaking during a session on disabilities and intersectoral approaches, Joy-Ann Harrigan, Education Officer, Special Needs with the Ministry of Education and Sports in Antigua and Barbuda, told the gathering, “There can be no discussion about the rights of persons with disabilities without education at the centre, starting with early childhood education.”
Cheryl Adams, President of the organization Voice of the Disabled in Saint Vincent underscored the need for persons with disabilities to speak with authority when lobbying for their rights.
Citing existing issues with accessibility in urban settings, she contended: “We have a lot of barriers that need to be broken, and I always say that it must start with us, because if we have to wait for other persons to break them for us it will take a long time.”
This consultation was one of many global events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
It was organized jointly by the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Caribbean Regional Spotlight Initiative, UN Women, UNFPA and UNICEF.
Participants came from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname.
SOURCE: United Nations – Barbados And the Eastern Caribbean