This Saturday, 3 December, the Cayman Islands will join hundreds of countries across the globe in observing International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
The United Nations theme “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development” reminds us that everyone, regardless of ability, should have opportunities to participate in and benefit from our society’s development.
Adapting that theme for the local context we’ve shortened it to “Together for a better world for all” – focusing specifically on the many ways in which we can work together to ensure our Cayman Islands world is not only better and accessible for some individuals, but for all individuals who call these Islands home.
Within my Ministry, we continue efforts to ensure the talents within our most challenged citizens are nurtured and encouraged and their basic human rights are protected. Our initiatives and support extend throughout the life-span of such individuals.
However, as we await the required legislative change, everyone in our community can start making small changes that will promote acceptance and inclusion of persons with disabilities. It can even be as simple as changing the language we use to describe individuals who have intellectual, sensory, mental health or physical disabilities.
For example, earlier this year, Caribbean representatives attending the Global Youth Activation Summit in Athens, Greece, started a movement to end the use of the “R” word – retarded.
They correctly said when used properly, it is just another word in the dictionary meaning to make slow, hinder or impede, or to delay the development or progress of an action or process. However, when used as a slang word to describe special needs individuals it becomes a weapon – meaning the subject is foolish, stupid, dull, socially inept or cannot learn.
But intellectually and physically challenged individuals can learn, they can overcome obstacles, they can surpass expectations. Persons with disabilities contribute greatly to society and they have dreams; dreams like everyone else, which can become realities. Simply committing to eradicating such language from your vocabulary and discouraging others who habitually use it may seem of little consequence. But to persons living with disabilities and their loved ones – a number, which according to the United Nations, nears 2 billion people globally – it is profound.
Such a commitment would mark not only a change in the way we talk of but, also, a conscious decision to change the way we think about individuals with special needs. They deserve the right to equity and non-discrimination in all aspects of their lives, including full enjoyment of what our Cayman Islands society offers. Will you make this commitment this week and make it your resolution for the New Year? Remember, one can make a difference, and that one could be you.
In the words of social pioneer Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
Minister of Education, Training and Employment