OPINION: Disability Rights: Access Denied

OPINION: Disability Rights: Access Denied

For years we have toyed around with the words access, inclusion and human rights, often dismissing them as if they were of little to no importance in our country.  Can we collectively now get serious about it?

The inclusion of all persons within our society in nation building is essential for the success of our commonwealth. There is absolutely no reason why in 2018, persons of all abilities should not have access to all buildings within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. It was disappointing to witness the inconvenience and frustration that individuals with varying abilities were subject to at a recent event hosted at Mount Fitzwilliam – home to the highest office in the land. The fact that there is an elevator at Government House and the organizers were unable (or did not seek) to ensure that it was working is heart-breaking! A simple change in location, given the inaccessibility of the building, would have resolutely indicated that we are indeed thinking about inclusion, serious about accessibility and we as a nation understand basic human rights.  In the words of a local advocate, “It is an ironic mockery to honour someone and disrespect them at the same time”

It is simply unacceptable that children that are differently able are still having difficulties with getting to some of their classes because there is simply no access.   Further to the issue of environmental barriers, there are children with special needs that are still not able to access needed therapeutic intervention namely Occupational Therapy, Behaviour Therapy and Physical Therapy within the educational system.  The lack of provisions for students needing additional assistance is an impediment that extends beyond their immediate environment to potentially shutting them out of their future.  It is high time that we got serious about access, inclusion and human rights in our nation.

Public transportation for persons in wheelchairs is non-existent, recreational facilities have substandard access and even though we advertise our beautiful beaches worldwide, they remain inaccessible to persons with limited mobility. These individuals are constantly subjected to choosing between the worst option and nothing at all, which is truly inhumane.  Successive administrations have pontificated much about this issue, but can we take the rights of ALL humans serious; especially in what has been termed  ‘ the people’s time’?

Can we include every human in the human experience and move beyond just pacifying dialogue? Mere sympathy does not provide access, inclusion, or human rights. Would you like to be subjected to what you see others suffer through? Would an “I’m so sorry” pacify you if you see students moving from the Science Lab to the Music Room, but you can’t because there is no ramp for a wheelchair? Would you like to know that you, your mother or your child was being honoured somewhere and you couldn’t attend because there was absolutely no way for you to get to the second floor of that building except by stairs you cannot climb?

Inclusion of people with disabilities in society means involving them in every aspect of participation others enjoy. Inclusion is something that must come from a desire to include them in the activities of the community, family, friendships and more.  Including people with disabilities is something that you cannot legislate into the hearts and minds of people, it is something that we must want.  When all of a person’s needs are met in an integrated way, each of the areas adds strength in their ability to achieve fulfilment in other areas. Inclusion is about meeting every one of those needs and maximizing a person’s overall quality of life.

Mohamed Jenmi, a Professor of ICT and Educational Technologies said it best in his TED talks presentation in 2013, “Disability is not the problem.  The accessibility is the problem.”  Human Rights are not optional!


Charlis Robins, Spokesperson for Social Services & Urban Development

Democratic National Alliance

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