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RIGHT OF CENTRE: Empower the disabled


David "Joey" Harper

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It cannot be said that significant progress has not been achieved within the last decade to ensure that people with disabilities are not marginalized in Barbadian society.
This is a society that once saw these ambitious people treated in a manner which suggested they were unable to make a significant contribution to their own development, and by extension, the progress which the country is making.
The question is: has enough been done to extend the confidence and opportunity to people with disabilities that is needed to give them the independence which is their inalienable right?
The answer is a resounding “no!” Many of these intellectually competent people are hindered by the myopic approach of people – especially business people – who see them as an encumbrance that cannot be afforded by their companies.
Let it be made clear that there are some companies which have taken the time to look beyond the disability and employed men and women who have made positive contributions to their companies – businesses such as the Barbados Light and Power, radio stations, hotels and accounting firms – but even with this progress, we have not even scratched the surface of this latent but underused, almost deliberately hidden asset.
One of the excuses used by business places to suggest that they cannot tap into this resource is cost.
Businesses’ accounting management suggest that restructuring the present environment to cater to a disabled person is almost prohibitive; yes, changes have to be made to existing buildings, but those that are in the planning stages should recognize that there are more than 30 000 disabled people in Barbados.  
This vulnerable element in our society are consumers, commuters and voters and they deserve the rights afforded the able bodied, especially in the field of employment which allows them the opportunity to function at the level of the above and not to be considered a burden on families or friends.
There is evidence that if allowed the opportunity, people with disabilities can function at every level of the work environment and there is evidence to prove this: Carson Small, who crossed the barrier from being abled to disabled to become an efficient functional member of the staff of Barbados Rediffusion, now Voice of Barbados; and let us not forget Kraigg Nurse, who studied to be an accountant and moved on to be a significant member of the staff of Ernst and Young; (the firm, aware of Kraigg’s abilities, was willing to make changes to office layout to accommodate this brilliant young man) and, of course, we cannot overlook the sterling contribution already well recorded of visually impaired Senator Kerryann Ifill, who is also the current president of the Barbados Council for the Disabled and Deputy President of the Senate.
    The question is: should we do more to embrace this vulnerable but competent human asset in our businesses?
The answer is definitely, yes, and it does not need seminars and focus groups to determine this.  
    What it needs is action, not affirmative, but value based action where rights replace sentiment; let us now invoke the rights of people with disabilities. Yes, we know more can be done but it goes beyond that.
Politically, morally, socially and, especially within the business environment, more can and must be done.

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