It's the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and Trinidad & Tobago still has a long way to go

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This post is written by Cause An Effect, a disability-focused non-governmental organisation geared towards the inclusion and protection of those with disabilities, as well as the building of sustainable assisted living and work communities where people who are moderately to severely disabled, can still productively contribute to the wider society and feel fulfilled.

What do you do when the society you live in doesn't cater to any of your needs because your needs were never considered when the society took shape and evolved?

Imagine waking up every day facing attitudinal and systemic barriers and being made to feel that your very existence is a burden to others. The most effective way to deal with such a challenge, which many people with disabilities experience on a daily basis in Trinidad and Tobago, is through legislative implementation — a set of rules or laws that will ensure your ability to enjoy equitable access within society.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 1.3 billion people experience significant disability. This represents 16 percent of the world's population, or one in six of us. Some people with disabilities die as many as 20 years earlier than those without disabilities.

The inability to access adequate healthcare and to receive an education can hamper anyone's ability to attain skills and implement tools to help ensure that they are employable. However, when you have a disability and, on top of that, also have to deal with everyone else's attitudinal biases, it can feel almost impossible to thrive.

Education in Trinidad and Tobago for people with disabilities leaves much to be desired.

The compounding effect of unqualified and underpaid staff, long waiting lists for public special education schools, very expensive private special education options, and lack of timely access to allied healthcare services and classroom aides for students in need, creates a black hole in their universe and severely limits their choices. The blind, the deaf, and others with learning disabilities who need different types of educational aids, end up having their learning experiences negatively impacted by systemic and structural barriers.

The outcome? When they leave the system, it is usually as low-skilled individuals who then find it difficult to obtain the kind of meaningful employment opportunities that would afford them growth and upward mobility. As a result, we have a generation of people with disabilities, for whom the only certainty is dependency on the state for a disability grant, which comes with its own set of limiting rules.

How can we change the trajectory of life for those in the community of people with disabilities? By enacting laws that will impact the way the needs of citizens with disabilities are both considered and met.

The Human Rights Committee of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) has formed a working group that is partnering with the community of people with disabilities, with the aim of presenting disability-focused legislation to the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.

This is historic because there has never been another group with the kind of influence LATT wields, which has shared its time and expertise with this community — especially with the end goal being legislative progress.

Disability is an evolving concept. What may have been sufficient 60+ years ago is now outdated, and needs to evolve to both meet the current needs of the community and to be in alignment with Sustainable Development Goals.

The creation and implementation of disability laws will provide a guide to the entire society for what is acceptable or not. It will also empower people with disabilities and their families to accept nothing less than equitable treatment, and shift the trajectory of future outcomes for the entire community of people living with disabilities in Trinidad and Tobago.

Editor's Note: The second public consultation as pertains to the Law and Disability Rights legislation was held on December 2, the day before the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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