Minister Richards delivers his speech while President Bergan listens.

The government continues to work to improve the lives of the disabled in the Federation, Deputy Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, the Honourable Shawn Richards, said during the Disabled People’s International North America and the Caribbean Tenth Regional Assembly held at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort Aug.23-25.

“…We have been constantly seeking to improve the quality of life for disabled people out of the recognition that they are an important constituency whose dreams and aspirations mirror the hopes and expectations of their fellow citizens and residents,” said Minister Richards. “Improving the functional capacity of persons with disabilities here in St. Kitts and Nevis has been central to the Team Unity Administration’s interactions and engagement with this very important constituency.”

He spoke about the wheelchair accessible bus that was donated by the St. Kitts-Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) in late 2015. The bus can accommodate 18 persons and four wheelchairs.

“The [donation] has paved a way for the successful Dial-A-Ride Transportation Service operated by the Association and it has also inspired the creation of similar services such as 869 Access Services,” said the deputy prime minister. “Such worthwhile services facilitate various business and personal errands for wheelchair bound clients, as well as socialization among the elderly and disabled.”

Minister Richards highlighted other projects that government has undertaken to accommodate the disabled.

“The rehabilitation of the island’s main road in St. Kitts also takes into consideration persons with disabilities in our villages and towns. Wheelchair accessible sidewalks have been incorporated into the road upgrade plan and in furtherance of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” he said. “Sidewalks with wheelchair access have also been included in the plan to enhance the South Frigate area, specifically in the vicinity of the Strip. Indeed, our East Bus Line terminal, which opened to the public last December [2018] and the refurbished Basseterre Ferry Terminal both have wheelchair ramps.”

Deputy Prime Minister Richards said that “as leaders, we in the Team Unity Administration take the approach that disabled people are people first and foremost,”  and recognized persons such as Joseph Bergan, President of the St. Kitts-Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities.

“They [the disabled] are people like Lance Corporal Joseph Bergan of the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force (SKNDF), who was shot in the line of duty almost 15 years ago and now walks with the aid of a cane. …He lived a full life before the life-changing incident and he would tell you that living became even more meaningful afterwards, especially as he began to work with and advocate on behalf of a diverse supportive community of people who refused to be defined by their disabilities,” he said,  applauding Mr. Bergan and other members of society “who are adapting to life with a disability with grace and determination.”

The conference, held under the theme ‘Build and Strengthen the Functional Capacity of the Organization,’saw 14 overseas delegates come from as far as Canada and the United States, in addition to local delegates.