Nassau, The Bahamas – Minister of Social Services, Information and Broadcasting the Hon. Myles LaRoda has called for a “major” shift in the way society views persons with disabilities.
Minister LaRoda made the appeal during a press conference to announce Disability Awareness Week 2023 at Stapledon School, Dolphin Drive, on Monday, November 27, in recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to be celebrated December 3, 2023. The theme for the week is “Inclusion in Action”.
“This shift is essential if we hope to progress even further as a nation, the obvious reason being that this community of persons has so much to offer,” said the Minister.
“However, a shift will only take place if there are consistent, long-term programmes. Therefore, I am encouraging the Department of Social Services, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), civil society and all other concerned organizations to place emphasis on weekly and monthly events aimed at highlighting issues that persons with disabilities face and how they can be resolved.
“I am aware that the changes will be incremental, but the small steps will eventually lead to the desired goal of full equity and inclusion.”
Among those present were representatives of the Disability Affairs Division, the Department of Social Services, Down Syndrome Association; the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and NGOs, and students and teachers from Stapledon School, Centre for the Deaf and Erin Gilmour School for the Blind.
Participants included: Charlamae Fernander, Acting Director, Department of Social Services; Nalini Bethel, Chairperson, National Commission for Persons with Disabilities; John Gomez, Aliv CEO and students from the Down Syndrome Association, Centre for the Deaf and the Stapledon School.
In his remarks, Minister LaRoda offered his Ministry’s full support toward hosting events throughout the year. He described it as an excellent, fail-proof way of bringing awareness to the challenges persons with disabilities face; the steps needed and/or taken toward full inclusion and the progress made.
Moreover, Minister LaRoda outlined observations made by the 2023 United Nations Disability and Development Report on the status of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its impact on the community of persons with disabilities.
He noted that the report revealed that the target date for the total implementation of SDGs has been delayed, with the negative impact on vulnerable and marginalized groups being even greater.
The report also indicated that the “entire global community” has been negatively impacted by climate change, the Ukrainian war, the weak global economy and the after-effects of COVID-19.
He presented a list of SDGs that are affecting persons with disabilities and the Government’s management of them. They are as follows:
– Goal #1 on the elimination of poverty
The Government has committed to a 10 per cent increase of cash grants to persons with disabilities. Requests for grant funding and increases to existing grants for disability organizations are considered and approved once the criteria are met.
– Goal #4 on inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels, including vocational training
In addition to Centre for the Deaf, Stapledon School, the School for the Blind, the following schools have dedicated sections for students with disabilities:
Primary schools: Willard Patton, Gerald Cash, Palmdale and Thelma Gibson,A.F. Adderley Junior High School, Anatol Rodgers Senior High School, Tiny Tots Preschool and the University of The Bahamas.
Minister LaRoda reported that for the past three years a partnership has existed with the Ministry of Education, and Vocational and Technical Training and his Ministry for a special education class of 15 students at the Early Childhood Development Center, East Street South. He said plans are underway for another special education classroom.
– Goal #8 Full Employment and decent work, with equal pay
Minister LaRoda advised that clients are referred for employment based on qualifications and ability, not disability.
– Goal #10 Reduction of inequality within and among countries by promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all
Minister LaRoda reported that The Bahamas promotes social, cultural and economic inclusion; however, with regards to political inclusion, the community of persons with disabilities has taken a bipartisan approach.
– Goal #11 Provision of safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transportation and accessible, green and public spaces
Minister LaRoda said all persons in The Bahamas have access to green and public spaces.
However, the goal of sustainable transportation has yet to be achieved. He said past discussions were not productive with relevant persons in the independent public transportation industry, based on low demand and loss of income, combined with the high cost of acquiring specialized buses.
He also advised that his Ministry is willing to explore the suggestion of the establishment of an organized bussing system providing there is government subsidy.
– Goal #17 Production of high quality, timely, reliable data on persons with disabilities
Minister LaRoda reported that his Ministry is awaiting current data on persons with disabilities from the 2022 National Census, which will affect the government’s decision-making policies, programmes, legislation and allocation of resources.
The nine days of celebrations include the following activities:
Friday, December 1
T Shirt Day (Every Friday)
Dinner Show – 6 pm, Paul Farquharson Training Center, East Street
Saturday, December 2
Blindfold Challenge – 10 am – 6 pm, Blue Hill Road Sporting Complex
Sunday, December 3
Church Service, Bahamas Harvest Church, RND Plaza, JFK Drive
Thursday, December 7
BAPD Christmas Programme, 11 am, Bahamas Association for the Physically Disabled, Dolphin Drive
Saturday, December 9
Disability Love Day – Celebration of Unity and Strength Concert, 2 pm – 8 pm, Stapledon School Auditorium, Dolphin Drive