Why? We need a National Disability Law now.

Persons with disabilities seem to be the forgotten people in Cayman society. The physical environment does not lend itself to those with disabilities with its busy roads with narrow or no pavements and buildings with steps that have no wheelchair ramps. When it comes to rights they are even more disenfranchised; there are a number of laws that already exist in Cayman, which consider the needs of persons with disabilities, but there is no one law that deals specifically with the rights of disabled persons. A law is clearly needed that gives people access to services to which they are entitled and also enables them to participate in the community. This type of legislation is commonplace in other parts of the world, so why is it taking so long for Cayman to implement?

Brent M. Holt, senior policy advisor, special educational needs, with the Ministry of Education, Employment, and Training, says it is not due to a lack of will.

“Comprehensive legislation by nature takes longer to be drafted and passed than narrower acts because of the broad number of stakeholders impacted, including issues of financial impact. Therefore, no one Ministry within government can unilaterally drive this forward.”

The government is in the process of developing comprehensive legislation for persons with disabilities, marked by drafting guidelines first tabled in May 2009 in the Legislative Assembly as the Report of the Legal Sub-Committee for Persons with Disabilities.

This spring, Holt says the Legal Sub-Committee Report will be reviewed for legislative action by the three main ministries that will share the majority of responsibility for implementation, which are the Ministry of Education, Training & Employment, the Ministry of Community Affairs, Gender & Housing and the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports & Culture.

In the meantime, the updating and regulating of separate pieces of legislation which provide for persons with disabilities (e.g. education law, mental health law) are in progress. A final draft of recommendations for a National Policy and Action Plan on Behalf of Persons with Disabilities will also be reviewed this spring. Holt says “Many of the policy recommendations can be immediately implemented, allowing for progressive realization towards future legal requirements during the interim while the disability law is drafted and legislated.”

What all this means is that following passage of a National Disability Law, whenever legislation or policies are initiated it will require that the needs and rights of persons with disabilities are explicitly considered and addressed. For those who might think that the rights of disabled people is not their concern, it is worth considering that internationally one in four people live in a household with a person who has a disability or at any time any one of us might end up with disability. Or as Holt points out, we just could get old. “For those fortunate to live a long life, there will come a time in the aging process when these legal provisions will improve and protect the quality of those final years of life. That is the personal benefit for us all.”

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