My fellow citizens and residents of St. Christopher and Nevis today is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
This means, on this day we take a closer look at the issues that are affecting our disabled community and make an extra special effort to find ways of responding to and resolving them.
The theme for this year is “Building back better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 World”.
According to the World Bank, there are approximately one (1) billion persons in the world living with some form of disability and unfortunately, they are among those who are hardest hit with regards to COVID-related fatalities.
The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, therefore, continues to ensure that the well-being being of these individuals are met and we are prepared to do even more.
The United Nations defines a disabled person as one who has a long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment that prevents them from fully participating in the society in which they live.
In an effort to bring focus to the challenges of Disabled Persons, the date of December 3rd was first observed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly and later, in 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I am pleased to say that in 2019, St. Kitts and Nevis signed the said Convention confirming our commitment to better help our differently-abled citizens. This day was established to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities and to increase the awareness of the situations that they face on a cultural, political, social, and economic level. These rights are also outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 10 which focuses on the reduction of inequalities in and among countries.
Prior to the Covid Pandemic, persons with disabilities experienced difficulty in accessing opportunities that are often readily accessible to able-bodied persons. Since the onslaught of the Pandemic, these opportunities are even more difficult to access. This means, in order for us to build back better, we must do so carefully, ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are among the first to receive help.
St. Kitts &Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities or the SKNAPD continues to fight for the rights of the disabled community through their outreach and awareness programmes. The organization has outlined for my ministry the issues that need to be addressed and I would like for members of the organisation to know that, we have heard your voices and the ministry, and the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis is working to resolve these issues accordingly.
The need for programmes that target persons with disabilities, the need for a National Health Insurance that would help to offset medical bills and among other things, the need for better physical access to buildings and public spaces are highest on the list of priorities.
The latter is particularly important because while many of us can easily traverse the steps of buildings and walk along the busy sidewalks, a physically disabled person might have difficulty doing so. Of course, there are a few institutions that have improved accessibility to their building by putting a ramp in place or installing an elevator but there are many more miles to travel in response to those needs.
I would therefore like to remind all public and private sector institutions that a differently-abled person is a customer like anyone else. They too need to visit our offices, banks, supermarkets, stores, churches, restaurants, and our entertainment centers.
The SKNAPD rightfully noted that the lack of accessibility not only affects our local disabled community but our tourism industry as well. This is because, without proper access to facilities, tourists who are themselves differently-abled, may have difficulty maneuvering around our beautiful twin-island Federation. This could affect their choice of a vacation destination, adversely affecting our tourism prospects.
We are therefore called upon to build better under the theme building back better, thereby enhancing our economic prospects
Each year, the SKNAPD plans a week of activities, but due to the Pandemic, these have been reduced to a church service that took place on November 29th at the Antioch Baptist Church and a private Games day which will take place today at the Irish Town Community Center.
I am pleased that we as a Nation have already made important steps responding to those often forgotten, however, we are cognizant that we still have a long way to go.
Before I close let me say a word, a specific word to those who are differently-abled or who consider themselves disabled. Psalms 139 verse 14 tells us that “You are fearfully and wonderfully made”. You must therefore understand that no matter your disability, you are not here on earth for your own glorification but for the glorification of God. You may not see it and I also may not see it, but your story is the inspiration of someone, somewhere, to the Glory of God. Therefore, dwell not upon the status of your flesh but on the purity of your spirit which will one day leave our deformed body to be with the Lord
We are grateful for all the efforts from both private and public sector institutions and persons for their response to the needs of our differently-abled community.
Working together we can build back better.