While Barbados has done “exceptionally well” in its efforts at aiding persons with disabilities, there are still several shortcomings that must be addressed, according to Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, as he addressed a graduation ceremony for persons who completed courses in Flower Arranging and Sign Language, conducted by the National Disabilities Unit (NDU), earlier this year.
The graduation was held at the Prince Cave Hall of the District ‘A’ Police Station, Station Hill, St. Michael.
In praising the training given to the participants, Minister Humphrey said people with disabilities should not be limited to entrepreneurship as their only source of income because some members of society refuse to hire them.
Stating that he supports those who aspire to have their own business, he continued:
“It cannot be that our society is so discriminatory that this [entrepreneurship] is the only kind of jobs persons with disabilities can have…. If it is to the point where you are forced to be an entrepreneur because no one will hire you and because you have a disability, then they are basically crippling development in this country.”
Outlining flaws in the system, Mr. Humphrey told the audience: “Where I feel we have fallen down is [that] we have not passed most of those benefits on to persons with disabilities; I think that has been our biggest challenge. We’ve done very, very well overall [but] we have not been able to make sure that those benefits are realised by persons with disabilities.”
The audience was, however, reminded that there was hope, given the recent set up of a Commission, by Government, to improve the lives of persons with disabilities by examining their circumstances and seeking solutions.
Barbados does have the Employment (Prevention of Discrimination) Act, which was recently enacted, and this law does includes the Prevention of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities within the employment arena. However, Barbados has no specific constitutional or legislative provisions which protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
Barbados was a signatory in 2007 to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ratified this Treaty on February 28, 2013. This demonstrated the commitment in principle of both political administrations to improve the lives of the community of persons with disabilities.
Minister Humphrey drew attention to the “marvellous work” being undertaken by Member of Parliament and Chair of the Commission, Edmund Hinkson, and his team.
And, he said: “I think there were about 60 meetings that were held over the course of a few months to look at the circumstances facing persons with disabilities, across a whole wide range of areas and persons.
“We met with the banks, training institutions, learning institutions, all the government agencies; it was wide. That report, I have been able to take to Cabinet and the Cabinet has approved it, but, we’ve gone back out for further consultation on it and the policy to allow persons to have further input.”
Further lauding the Commission’s “good work”, he said: “They were able to inform our policy. And, we have a very detailed policy now, a draft policy that would improve the lives of persons with disabilities…. We now have in our hands draft policy and legislation and we have Mr. Hinkson’s report,” said the Minister, as he urged Barbadians to peruse the policy.
Meanwhile, Director of the National Disabilities Unit, John Hollingsworth, disclosed that the Flower Arrangement and Sign Language courses were an attempt to address some of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities.
In respect of the Flower Arrangement course, he said the NDU thought it “a good avenue for persons with disabilities because it allows them a variety of events that they can utilise their skills”.
Providing the rationale behind the Sign Language course, he stated: “It breaks down the barrier of communication between deaf and hard of hearing and the general population.” He further noted that while this first edition was aimed at the parents and relatives of persons who are deaf, the NDU planned to expand it to include other persons who can benefit from the particular skill.
Mr. Hollingsworth also acknowledged that the 10-week intensive training would have equipped the NDU with some ideas as to what it needed to do going forward.
The valedictorians were Lana Hinds from the Sign Language class and Nakiesha Stoute from the Flower Arrangement course.