‘Disabilities are yet another manifestation of global diversity. Let us always be committed to the fundamental principles of dignity and equality for all human beings.’ Kofi A. Annan, United Nations Secretary General 1997-2006
One in every 10 persons in the world has a disability. That’s 650 million people, a large percentage who continue to face barriers to participating in their communities.
Globally, persons with disabilities are often forced to live on the margins of society. A recent World Bank study reinforces this, stating that nearly 20 per cent of poverty-stricken individuals living in developing countries are PWDs.
They often face stigma and discrimination and are routinely denied basic rights such as food, education, access to health and reproductive health services, as well as employment. Many are also forced into institutions, a direct breach of their rights to freedom of movement and to live within open communities.
These stark realities inform the theme for this year’s International Disabilities Day, which is celebrated on 3 December. Selected by UN Enable, the United Nations organisation that champions the rights and dignity of PWDs, the theme reads as follows: Making the Millennium Development Goals Inclusive: Empowerment of persons with disabilities and their communities around the world.
The UN’s aim is to promote the rights of physically and intellectually challenged individuals, including integrating them into the political, social, economic and cultural life of their communities.
Despite these aspirations, persons with disabilities continue to experience inequalities.
The Millennium Goals aspire to eradicate hunger and poverty; promote gender equality; reduce child mortality; battle HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and develop a global partnership for development, but they cannot be achieved unless PWDs are included in the development process.
And here in Cayman we are also striving to improve the overall rights and services provided for PWDs. Within the Ministry of Education, Training and Employment, efforts are already under way to support legislative reform for challenged individuals.
A report from the Planning the Future for Persons with Disabilities in the Cayman Islands Steering Committee and its associated Legal Sub-Committee, earlier this year was laid in the Legislative Assembly. It will inform the preparation of drafting instructions for new legislation, which will be presented to the public for consultation as a White Paper.
Legislation is important. However, there are also many important things that we can all do right now to help protect and ensure the rights of our own physically and intellectually challenged citizens.
Simple actions, such as leaving designated parking spots for the use of individuals who truly need them; using ‘people-first’ language when referring to persons with disabilities; and exercising patience when interacting with the physically or mentally challenged, can aid our efforts to make everyone feel more integrated in our society.
And for those wishing to take their efforts a step further, www.un.org/disabilities or www.ilo.org/disability offers invaluable suggestions on additional things we can all do to reduce the impact of some of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. You may also view the Planning the Future for Persons with Disabilities in the Cayman Islands Legal Sub-Committee’s Report on www.brighterfutures.gov.ky .
We must not forget that while persons with disabilities indeed face challenges, they desire the same things the rest of us do – that is, to support their families, send their children to school, contribute to their communities, and to enjoy life.
Like everyone else, they must be counted as equals in our society; they must be given every opportunity to realise their dreams.
Let us therefore commit to inclusion rather than exclusion. Let us properly educate ourselves and, going forward, adopt attitudes that will reduce the challenges faced by persons living with disabilities in the Cayman Islands.
Minister of Education, Training & Employment