I really missed out on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on December 3. I simply did not get a chance to write on the topic. So I am glad fellow blogger Wayne Campbell addressed the issue of disability rights in this article, which gives much food for thought on the way forward. Wayne had a conversation with Tamika, a visually impaired woman, which gave him greater insights on the need not only to respect the rights of people with disabilities, but also to provide them with opportunities to become economically empowered and independent.
On that last point, I noted in a recent blog post about the JN Foundation’s amazing Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI) that one of the program’s most successful social enterprises to date is Superior Crafts and More, a furniture making, woodwork and craft enterprise operated by visually impaired Jamaicans. They also do wonderful work with wicker and cane, including refurbishing and repair of furniture. Read more about them here.
Here is Wayne’s article.
“Disability is not an obstacle to success.” –Stephen Hawking
According to a World Bank Report, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. The report adds that disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. In Jamaica approximately 200,000 Jamaicans live with a disability as stated by the same source. Persons with disabilities, on average as a group, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities – such as less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment and higher poverty rates.
I met a most remarkable young lady last Saturday. She was visually impaired but was in high spirits and bubbling with energy and positive vibes. Tamika was born sighted, but unfortunately lost sight in both eyes at age 22. In spite of her disability, she is a positive, industrious mother of five and was all too willing to share a bit of her story, some of which was rather personal and almost moved me to tears. Until you have interacted with a blind person you really do not know what it is to be discriminated against, laughed at and ignored. During our conversation Tamika spoke intensely about the lack of awareness in the wider Jamaican society regarding the plight and concerns of members of the disabled community, especially those who are blind. She recalled painfully being let off at the wrong bus stop on numerous occasions by Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus drivers, even after telling the drivers where she would like to disembark upon entering the bus. She added that in most instances those incidents took place at nights, in areas which are lonely and unsafe. She was left alone only with the mercy of God to navigate her way back to where she wanted to go. As a result of those negative and traumatic experiences Tamika is now fearful of taking the JUTC bus, and one can clearly understand why.
Tamika is encouraging the government to embark on a public education campaign to highlight the issues the disabled community encounters almost on a daily basis. Tamika’s voice became almost inaudible when she told of instances in which blind persons have had their canes kicked away and stepped on by able- bodied members of the society. She spoke of the struggles of the blind in the society, specifically in rural areas where they oftentimes remain at home out of fear of being ridiculed, wasting away as their talents go unused. It bears thought that as a society we cannot achieve sustainable development if we continue to exclude a sizeable section of the society.
Sustainable Development Goals
In fact the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) addresses all three dimensions of sustainable development, which are environmental, economic and social. Disability is referenced in various sections of the SDGs and specifically in parts related to education, growth, employment, inequality and accessibility of human settlements. For example, Goal 4 speaks to inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all; focuses on eliminating gender disparities in education; and on ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities.
Goal 8 of the SDGs speaks to the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. The international community aims to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value. Additionally, Goal 10 of the SDGs addresses inequality within and among countries by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, including persons with disabilities. Goal 11 aims at making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable. To realize this goal, member states are called upon to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all and improving road safety – notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, such as persons with disabilities. Finally, Goal 17 speaks to reliable data that is also disaggregated by disability.
Tamika was quite fortunate to have left rural Jamaica and come to Kingston to live, where she completed HEART/ Level 3 training in her chosen field. She was extremely passionate in sharing what she considered insensitive and uncaring remarks hurled at her by some people when she became pregnant; they questioned who would want to impregnate a blind person. She was quite unwavering in her comments that members of the disabled community have feelings and emotions and are capable of loving and being loved. As a society we must be mindful that the disabled community also has reproductive rights and the right to health care, and that this human rights should be respected by all. Tamika reiterated that the State needs to do more to highlight the troubling issues the disabled community endures, as well as to work towards making this vulnerable group feel a part of the wider society.
EMPOWERMENT OF THE DISABLED COMMUNITY
Tamika made a special appeal that more of our country’s sidewalks should be paved in order to allow the blind members of society the freedom to navigate in and around the city without fear of injuring themselves. She was adamant that more skills training is needed for members of the disabled community, in order to empower them in areas in which they can earn an income and build their self-esteem. She also suggested that more grants should be made available to members with a disability in order to make them more independent. This, she said, would inevitably foster a culture of entrepreneurship within the disabled community, since it is difficult for members to source employment.
She mentioned that although she has lost sight in both eyes, her vision was still intact. This vision Tamika refers to is one in which her children will grow up to be contributing members of the society; as well as a vision to expand her small business and become financially independent. As a society we all have a responsibility to work towards dismantling the stigma which oftentimes is associated with a disability. As we go about our business during this Christmas season, let us remember those members who are most vulnerable and give a helping hand wherever it is possible. We need to look beyond one’s disability and instead focus on the abilities and talents of our brothers and sisters and work towards a more inclusive society.
In the words of Scott Hamilton, the only disability in life is a bad attitude.