■ Jearlean laments treatment of disabled
John cries shame
OPPOSITION Senator Jearlean John has cried ‘shame’ on this country’s treatment of people with disabilities, stating that enough progress has not been made in improving their access to goods and services in recent years.
John was speaking yesterday as a member of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity, which held a ‘follow- up enquiry on the recommendations of the Second Report of the 11th Parliament into the Challenges faced by persons with disabilities with specific focus on access to services and employment’.
John questioned Trinidad and Tobago’s progress in the last six years since the report’s debut, saying the work was done by the parliamentarians and was to have been ‘actioned’ by the relevant public servants.
She was among members of the JSC querying the availability of such services as transportation, grants, access to public buildings, education, and employment to people with special needs/disabilities.
She asked what had been done from 2016, when the report was laid and stated: ‘I was ashamed reading this report, that we are really so immune to our disabled.’
The JSC questioned the coordination among government agencies towards achieving recommendations within the report, as well as financing and resources.
John expressed disappointment that more information was not available to ‘what happened in the gap from 2016’.
She said the report was ‘very critical’ of the management of Trinidad and Tobago’s disabled population, stressing that these were ‘among the most vulnerable in society’.
John said the findings ‘went to the heart of a major deficiency where we are not looking after our vulnerable’.
She asked whether the stakeholders referred to in the report had been brought together to say how the findings would be handled.
Among issues raised by Committee members was T& T’s building codes and development policies, the legislation for which is supposed to cater to people with special needs.
This includes appropriate infrastructure, such as wheelchair ramps on public buildings especially.
JSC chairman, Senate President Dr Muhammad Yunus Ibrahim, noted that some ‘retrofitting’ was visible around the country but questioned how many State buildings benefited.
Speaking for the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, Angelique Taylor, director of the policy programme Planning and Development Division, gave the JSC the assurance that the ministry was working even when this was not visible.
Taylor said a committee to address physical infrastructure in government buildings for people with special needs had been disbanded, but was being put back together.
She said it was noted that some buildings hadn’t been included and this would be addressed.
It had earlier been stated by Sudhir Ramesar, director at the Consortium of Disabilities Organisations, that ‘we will never be inclusive’ unless a more cohesive approach was taken.
Ramesar, 58, said: ‘I have never walked in my life’ and while describing himself as ‘very independent’, he couldn’t say there had been significant changes in access to goods and services.
Ramesar said in accessing services, there were still difficulties and asked where were the country’s building codes.
John had earlier taken issue with the structure of the ‘Elderly and Differently-Abled Mobile’ (ELDAMO) bus service provided by the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), particularly that people had to call up to 48 hours in advance to book the service and receive the service based on availability.
PTSC said there were 27 ‘universally’ equipped buses in the current public fleet, manned by trained drivers, and it was expected that a percentage of incoming new buses would also be universally equipped.
PTSC was also looking to hire ‘paratransit’ assistants, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development, to support drivers in some routes in operating wheelchair ramps and help people on board with their needs.
Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland also questioned whether there was a sense of ‘urgency’ attached to the development of service for disabled persons, noting some aspects of the PTSC service.
Stephen Creese, chief executive officer of the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities, had in the introduction stated that while some improvements have been made, the ‘jury was still out’ as to whether T& T had seen ‘significant’ strides in its expansion of special services.
Creese had also said that diabetes was now a significant cause of people ending up within an expanded definition of persons with disabilities, noting that amputations and vision-impairment impacted some diabetics.
Creese said Tobago was among those countries with the highest number of amputations as a result of diabetes. He emphasised that the Government’s budgeting must consider preventive measures that encourage healthier lifestyles.