Today, December 3rd marks the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs). The United Nations defines disability as any long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, which may hinder an individual’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis. In St. Kitts and Nevis, four major causes of disability are recognized. These include learning disorders, behavioural/developmental disorders, diabetes-related amputations and physical injuries or rare medical conditions.
Persons with disabilities are no different from any of us when it comes to their dreams or desires for growth and advancement; they are equally entitled to participate in all aspects of life and society. However, those of us who have a disability often require special accommodations in the form of assistive devices, adapted infrastructure, and tailored educational supports to enable us to participate fully and equally in everyday society as we know it.
In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to promote, protect and ensure that the rights of all persons with disabilities (PWDs) are acknowledged and fully enjoyed without discrimination. St. Kitts and Nevis supports these rights and in October 2019 the Federation signed and ratified the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities. What this means is the Federation commits itself to recognising and respecting the human rights of persons with disabilities by making the necessary laws, policies, and practical measures to facilitate their dignified and meaningful engagement in society.
Currently, there is no disability act or national disability policy but the fundamental rights of persons with disabilities are protected under the 1983 Constitution and other policies and plans that take into account a disability lens to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities are met.
While the Government and Ministry work on materializing a national disability policy and action plan, we must recognize the established institutions in St. Kitts and in Nevis that function to support those who are differently abled. Some institutions that are involved and that provide services and support to persons with disabilities include the St. Kitts and Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities, Ade’s Place, the Nevis Blind Light and Visually Impaired Society, the Cardin Home, the Flamboyant Nursing Home, the Cotton Thomas Comprehensive School, the Cecele Browne Integrated School and the St. Kitts Spectrum Services Center. These are all well known for providing educational and life skills training, social interactions and networking for persons who are disabled in various forms.
We also acknowledge and appreciate our public hospitals and health care facilities, which are accessible to persons with disabilities and where professionals are equipped in identifying disabilities at an early stage to provide necessary intervention. Children under the age of 18 and adults over the age of 62 receive free medical care. Individuals who are suspected of having autism can receive assessments and help at the Spectrum Services Center. And of course, the Ministries of Social Development and Gender Affairs, Education, Youth Empowerment, Aging and Disability also play a foundational role in funding and supporting these organizations to do the work that they do.
As we observe today as the International Day for persons with Disabilities, I must thank the named organizations and institutions for their work and service. Without them, persons with disabilities would feel and be more marginalized in our communities and nation. So a sincere thank you to the workers, staff, trainees, and participants at the various institutions that specifically work with and support persons with disabilities in the Federation.
The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis is committed to improving the lives of persons with disabilities including visitors to the Federation. It has embarked on a mission to honouring and fulfilling its obligations of the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities because in order to make equitable life a reality we must ensure that no one is left behind.
The international theme for this year’s annual observance is “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world”
Just last week, the Ministry concluded a week of stakeholder consultations in Nevis and in St. Kitts to inform the development of a public awareness campaign and a survey to capture data on persons with disability, which will be used for policy and programme planning. As per this year’s theme, we aspire to transform attitudes and ideas about persons with disabilities so that we can become a more practical and equitable society that enables the participation of everyone, regardless of ability.
As a nation, we must begin to look at disability-inclusive development, whereby access to employment among persons with disabilities is increased. Being innovative requires us to identify opportunities to train and employ persons in task-oriented jobs that they can do well as well as using assistive technologies that can help persons gain employment, and participate more in leisure and sporting activities. US-based studies suggest that companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities in their workforces outperform their peers. Leading companies for disability employment and inclusion had on average over a four-year period 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins than other companies that did not practice disability-inclusive employment.
What these statistics indicate is the added value that persons with disabilities can bring to our national development, if we make efforts to accommodate and adapt environments to enable their inclusion. In this administration’s thrust to build a resilient and sustainable future, we also recognise the need for social development that exhibits cultural and attitudinal shifts around how we treat and engage with those who are differently abled than us. The Government and Ministry will continue to make efforts to support and include persons with disabilities in development and I encourage all of us, individuals as well as public and private sector entities, to be a part of contributing to transformative solutions that sponsor and facilitate inclusive development for persons with disabilities.
Happy International Day for Persons with Disabilities.