Commonwealth urges change in mindset toward persons with disabilities

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By Orville Williams

The Commonwealth is imploring the public to develop a change of attitude toward persons with disabilities, to ensure sustainable and inclusive development across the region.

The international organisation is hosting a regional conference in Antigua this week, to promote the welfare of persons with disabilities, ensuring that they have equal access to opportunity and are allowed to participate as functioning members of respective societies.

The summit – IAmAble – is being held under the theme ‘The Future is Accessible’ and builds on the previous summit, which highlighted measures to increase the opportunities for persons with disabilities in the education, employment, health and mobility sectors.

Just last week, the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Persons with Disabilities (ABAPD), expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of enforcement toward individuals misusing parking spaces designated for persons with disabilities.

The President of the Association, Bernard Warner, cited a lack of consideration on the part of the perpetrators, for the plight of the disabled. As he witnessed, “persons who are not disabled are still using [the parking spaces] as if it is a free-for-all”.

OBSERVER media spoke with the Head of Social Policy Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Layne Robinson, at the start of the three-day conference. He says, there needs to be a fundamental adjustment to the general mentality, to prevent these types of occurrences and improve the well-being of persons with disabilities.

“It’s an issue of how we perceive – we need to have a change in the mind, the consciousness needs to be raised. If you can begin to see a person with disabilities as a person who needs to be included in society, then you are halfway there. So, I think what you are seeing with things like that [the parking issue] is, people still don’t appreciate and recognise that.”

“That’s a big long-term shift that the Government and [importantly] the media, needs to continue to work on – to begin to raise the awareness and expose those issues. Because, really, any society that cannot take care of the people who are disabled, people who are vulnerable – small children or the elderly, for example – you know that society isn’t going to go any further,” Robinson explained.

Implementing stipulations to ensure compliance with certain changes is another welcome move; through legislation, the Social Policy leader believes greater steps can be taken.

“In terms of legislation, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has done a good job [with] the Disabilities and Equal Opportunities Act, which came as a result of the first IAmAble Conference. When we had the first one in 2017, there was a national discussion about these issues, that eventually – along with many other factors – led to the creation of that act. The act really creates an enabling environment for more [of these issues] to become a discussion topic, for society to grapple with it and then [subsequently], change”, he said.

Robinson added that, “the Commonwealth is investing in that, because I think that is where we can have the biggest impact, helping to change laws and change minds.”

The IAmAble Conference, being held in partnership with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, is taking place at the Royalton Resort, from December 3rd to 5th.

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