THE lack of information or being unwilling at times to be receptive to what seems different is an ill that plagues our society. On the surface, it appears that our society, to this day, fails to fully integrate persons who are “Differently Abled” (term with dignity to refer to persons with disabilities) in all aspects of the country’s development. These individuals constantly battle against the many limitations that stifle their growth, such as lack of accessibility, high cost of medical care, and unavailability of employment, among other things.
It is consoling, however, to see that some people with disabilities in St. Lucia have persevered despite the many societal and physical barriers. We applaud the hard work and efforts of people such as Rosemond Clery, a paraplegic who served as a former UWP Senator and a former president of the National Council of and For Persons with Disabilities.
One can also highlight Anthony Avril as a man of great strength as he serves as the Executive Director of the St. Lucia Blind Welfare Association and has overcome many difficulties despite his visual impairment.
Additionally, it is with great pleasure that we make mention of Sherma Thomas, a young and vibrant lady with cerebral palsy, who has successfully published five books of short stories. Growing up in St. Lucia, she was unable to access formal public education, as there were no schools that accommodated people with her condition. However, with the love and support of family, she was home-schooled and is now an author of many rich and enjoyable children stories.
The plights of the abovementioned and so many of the people with disabilities here in St. Lucia are clearly reflected in the statement of the former UN Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar. He voiced an indeed troubling truth when he stated: “Equality of opportunity simply does not exist, where a disabled child cannot go to school, where a disabled mother has no health care, where a disabled man cannot get training or a job, or where disabled people cannot move freely on the streets.”
Further, he notes that one of the rights of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is not being fulfilled — all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights – it is not “universal” where millions of disabled people face daily discrimination and exclusion from equality of opportunity.
Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been celebrated annually on December 3 around the world. This year’s theme is “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all”.
According to an article published by the organization, International Day of Persons with Disabilities “aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”
It is the sincere desire of persons with disabilities, and advocates for their cause, that our dear St. Lucia becomes more accommodating and sensitive to the needs of persons who are differently abled through the provision of an environment of integration and equal opportunity without restrictions or barriers.
On this day, December 3, one which holds much meaning for persons with disabilities all around the world, we as a people must allow ourselves to grow in the knowledge that enables us to change our thinking and work towards a more inclusive society.
(Extracts contained in this article are taken from the United Nations Website and the Independent Living Institute website, www.independentliving.org)