Q & A with Merphilus James, President of the NCPD

By Kensley Peter Charlemagne
Image of Merphilus James

THE National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) was established on September 26, 1981. Its current president is Merphilus James, who took the time to answer a few questions I had.

Q: When did you take over the presidency of the organization?

A: I was elected President of NCPD on January 25, 2015.

Q: What qualifies you to head the organization and when does your term come to an end?

A: Having been nominated and elected at the Biannual General Meeting of the NCPD in 2015, the general body placed its trust in me and the rest of the Board to lead our organisation for two years. Abiding to the recommendations of Disabled People’s International (DPI), the Global Disability Organisation, of which NCPD is a member, that the heads of organisations representing PWDs should themselves be PWDs, I was elected as a person with a disability whom our members felt confident in being their leader.

Q: Does the executive have a full complement of officers and who are the other officers?

A: Currently actively serving on the Board are Merphilus James, President; Steve Edmunds, Vice-President; Linda Preville, Secretary; Jenny Constantin, Treasurer; Cynthia Weekes, Floor Member; and Mark Remy, Floor Member.

Q: Where is your office located?

A: The NCPD operates two offices on the island, namely its NCPD Head Office at Apricot Lane, Carellie, Castries; and Vieux Fort Sub-Office, New Dock Road, Vieux Fort.

Q: Are you disabled yourself and, if so, do you care to share with us what your disability is?

A: No, I am not “disabled” in keeping with modern disability etiquette. The only truly disabled person is one who is dead. As long as one can breathe, an ability exists. I am, however, first and foremost, A PERSON with a disability. “Person first language” is most appropriate when referring to people who are physically and intellectually different from most human beings. Hence, “a person with a disability” is a more acceptable way of stating rather than “a disabled person/the disabled”; “a person who uses/user of a wheelchair” rather than “s/he is wheelchair bound/ confined to a wheelchair”. Emphasis should be on the dignity of the human person and not on the disability or on limiting language like “bound, confined, challenged”, and so on. I am, therefore, the user of a left prosthetic leg from since the age of three.

Q: What are the major issues affecting people with disabilities in St. Lucia at this time?

A: Like in most societies where the majority of PWDs are among the poorest of the population, the lack of adequate financial resources and dependency is the main factor. Being trapped in a cycle where disability, especially in the case of mobility issues, renders the client unable to physically go out to earn a meaningful living and is, therefore, totally dependent on others for the provision of basic needs.

The situation exists where parents must give up the prospect of a full- time job in order to remain home to care for children with severe mobility issues. This has dire implications for single parent households with a child or children with disabilities. Our social safety net mechanisms must be continually improved to take full account of the severe circumstances of our PWDs and to ensure that the requisite financial and material assistance is allocated. Hence, the lack of adequate and equitable financial assistance to allow PWDs to meet their basic needs must be addressed.

Q: Your organization seems not to be in the public eye as in times past. Can you explain that shift?

A: I disagree with this assessment. The NCPD is in the media when it needs to be i.e. when significant developments occur as it relates to PWDs. The organisation will not take every meeting, workshop, distribution of food items and similar drives to the media, though such are always ongoing.

Recently, the NCPD was in the media for our annual camp for children with disabilities — Camp LAJWA — and for the announcement of a DPI regional meeting in Antigua in August which the President attended. Both of these events were in August 2017.

Distribution of vital food commodities to our most in need members occurs regularly as well as wheelchair donations and sourcing welfare assistance for clients. We are currently manufacturing prosthetic limbs for clients right here in Saint Lucia and though this prosthetic workshop was launched with the media, one will appreciate that these are sensitive needs for which many persons would prefer to not attract attention to themselves. We take great pride in safeguarding the privacy and confidentiality needs of our clients and thus will not broadcast every donation or recipient of a prosthetic limb.

Q: What are the groups of people you represent and does one have to be a member to receive representation if yours is a membership grouping?

A: The NCPD represents all people with disabilities on island, including students at the special education schools. Membership is not exclusive and we encourage PWDs and their caretakers to become members.

Active district councils of the NCPD which bring our services to communities are Anse la Raye District Council, Mon Repos District Council, Dennery District Council, Vieux Fort South District Council, Choiseul District Council, Soufriere District Council, Desruisseaux District Council.

Q: What kind of assistance do you provide to people with disabilities?

A: Among services offered by the NCPD are disability advocacy; distribution of food packages; referral services for disability grant, welfare assistance; selling and rental of mobility aids; skills training; basic prosthetic legs; physical therapy services; and donation of mobility aides and wheelchairs.

Q: What would you say are the major achievements under your presidency?

A: With the indispensable support and team work of a dedicated and motivated Board, the following can be classified as major highlights under my presidency:

Reducing the monthly operational expenses of the NCPD and bringing it below revenue inflow for the first time in many years.

Acquiring grant funding from the Australian government for the establishment of a “Prosthetic Rehabilitation and Repairs Workshop” in Saint Lucia where we are currently manufacturing basic prosthetic legs for financially-vulnerable clients at far lower costs than what obtain overseas.

Showcasing our services and the products of our Farmers with Disabilities Bee Keeping Association (FDBA) i.e. honey and honey bi-products such as creams, soaps, shampoo, to His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales (Prince Harry) during the Royal visit of November 2016.

Securing Crown Lands in Vieux Fort for the establishment of a southern NCPD office building.

Being elected to Disabled People’s International as a World Council member representing North America and the Caribbean as a direct result of my representation of Saint Lucia at the regional DPI meeting in Jamaica in June 2015.

Hiring of a Field Officer at our Castries Office to undertake outreach and distributions of food commodities and mobility aids.

Establishment of partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for the sponsorship of 50% to 100% of the cost of prosthetic legs for most financially limited clients.

Enabling of a more proactive board of Directors which directly manages the affairs of the NCPD when in past Board played a more passive role with management being done by an executive director.

Bettering staff working environment and remuneration.

Q: Does your organization receive a subvention from government and, if so, to the tune of how much?

A: The NCPD is extremely grateful to government for the monthly subvention of $12,500, which allows us to operate our offices, pay staff, coordinate our outreach programmes, field visits and distribution of items to clients.

Q: Does the organization generate its own money and through what kinds of programmes?

A: Revenue is generated by the NCPD primarily by our prosthetic limb programme. This is not meant to create profits but to allow us to reinvest in materials for manufacturing more limbs.

Q: Any final message that you would like to leave with St. Lucians?

A: People with disabilities are not strangers. They are our parents, children, neighbours, loved ones. They are all around. They are members of every society, our society. As a loving people and compassionate society, we must continue to extend a helping and empowering hand to people who, in most cases, through no fault of theirs, are physically and intellectually different from most of the population.

Local proverbial wisdom reminds us that we can never tell what might befall us as illnesses, incidents and accidents can transform fully able-bodied persons to persons with disabilities in a matter of seconds. The care and attention which we extend to others may very well become the measure of what others extend to us one day when our time of need arrives.

Disability is not inability! The person with a disability in one area of his/her life may demonstrate phenomenal potential in many other areas unaffected by the disability. The Special Olympics and Paralympics are examples of events which demonstrate the resilience and physical talents of PWDs.

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