Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde. (FP)

It is my pleasure to share these brief remarks in commemoration of March 2021 as the Month of the Disabled in Barbados. These are extremely challenging times for our country and in particular vulnerable groups like Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). The COVID-19 pandemic knows no boundaries and we are determined in our quest to ensure that those who are classified as most vulnerable, will get the required attention that they need.

In order to do so, I am calling on all parties to join together and formulate policies and strategies to make the lives of PWDs a more comfortable experience. To do this, there must be freedom from discrimination in all aspects of their lives; there must be the creation of equal opportunities in all spheres of endeavour and we must provide facilities that are accessible and adaptable to their needs.

Attempts to conform to these provisions should not be confined to this month, but should be an integral part of year round practices in the community. Likewise, the effort is not the sole responsibility of the organisations who advocate or provide services for the disabled, but is the responsibility of all of us.

It is only through this approach that we can hope to make a significant difference in the lives of PWDs and in the process, capitalise on their unique talents and abilities. A country that does not embrace and nurture all its citizens, stands the risk of wasting opportunities and retarding its development.

“The responsibility for achieving an accessible community does not just rest with government and people with disabilities. It rests with all of us. We can all play a part in the inclusion process, by including people with disabilities as we do other members of our community.”

Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde

My Ministry and by extension the government, intends to remain true to realising the objectives set for PWDs. During this month, we will embark on an initiative to raise the employment level of PWDs. Thirty (30) persons will be presented with the opportunity to acquire employability skills and at the end of training, will be afforded access to sustainable employment in the private sector.

Employment of PWDs is one of our main areas of focus and during the next financial year, there will be practical training in Agriculture, involving the cultivation and marketing of food crops. Our focus will also be on education, the creation of supportive environments and increasing the distribution of assistive devices. Through these initiatives, unemployment among PWDs will be aggressively addressed.

In the coming years, I would like to see social practitioners, school and university students completing access audits of local facilities, as part of their curriculum work and submitting the results to the providers of those facilities. As a result of these, owners of offices, shops, recreational facilities and transport systems who fall short, would be encouraged to make their facilities more accessible to persons with disabilities.

The responsibility for achieving an accessible community does not just rest with government and people with disabilities. It rests with all of us. We can all play a part in the inclusion process, by including people with disabilities as we do other members of our community.

“We must make a concerted effort to assist those in greatest need and we must ensure that no one remains disadvantaged, as we seek to harness the contributions of all groups towards the building of a better and more prosperous Barbados.”

Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde

We all must work more closely with disability advocacy organisations, to transform our schools, workplaces and communities, in order that positive change can be attained. We will also need to support the many areas in which Government and private enterprise are seeking to facilitate that change.

As a society, we have come a long way in meeting the needs of PWDs. However, there is still more work to be done if we consider the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as our baseline. During this month, when we focus on the experiences of this disadvantaged group, it is hoped that there is a marked expression of chivalry towards them from the general population and a renewed cultivation of the spirit of being our brother’s keeper.

We have the capacity to demonstrate these attributes, especially in this challenging period which is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. We must make a concerted effort to assist those in greatest need and we must ensure that no one remains disadvantaged, as we seek to harness the contributions of all groups towards the building of a better and more prosperous Barbados.

Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde

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