NASSAU, Bahamas — Consultant at the Department of Social Services Disability Affairs Division Iris Adderley says accessibility to goods and services for persons with disabilities have improved somewhat in The Bahamas but there is still a long way to go.
During an interview at her office Ms. Adderley said accessibility involves more than the disabled being able to access the physical environment; it includes being able to have access support services, health services, education and information.
“So things that help you become a contributing citizen of the country are the same entitlements that persons with disabilities are entitled to,” added Ms. Adderley who uses a wheelchair following a car accident.
“When I say that I am a Bahamian that means something to me; this means everything in this country that is available to anybody that lives in this country should and must be available to me.”
Pointing out that the country will not move as fast as it should if some people are left behind, the Consultant also noted that persons with disabilities must chart their own course as well and understand that freedom is not free but has to be fought for.
“We are people who know how to fight for what we want, so the community of persons with disabilities then has to take charge and say that these are our entitlements, and we have to organise, unify and decide what we are going to fight for to become included.”
As a result, Ms. Adderley said it is important for persons with disabilities to understand the benefits of joining the National Registry at the Disability Affairs office. The National Registry is a database that lists the number of disabled persons in the country.
“If we are going to become an inclusive society, we need to be able to say to the government, ‘here is a sizeable part of the population that you are leaving out’.
“International statistics say that 10 to 15 per cent of any population has a disability. If you register, you tend to have better sidewalks, better support services, better healthcare, the schools will be better accommodating as well as businesses – all these things come into play if we have an idea of who we are servicing.”
Ms. Adderley said integrating the disabled into society should begin at an early age; and this involves allowing students with disabilities into regular schools designed to accommodate them.
She explained that while all disabled students cannot participate in regular schools, pupils with disabilities should not be limited to special schools.
“If you and I went to school from the time we were in kindergarten, and I have a disability and you do not, by the time we are in 12th grade, you tend to see me more than you see my disability.
“You tend to understand me and when you go off to school or you make decisions as to your career, you will tend to not see me as different and you will make decisions that would be inclusive of me; whereas someone who has never had any association with me, I am a stranger to them.”
She advised that once persons with disabilities are properly provided with access, they would become more active in their communities.
This is where the Disabilities Affairs Division becomes important. Ms. Adderley said businesses and other entities should consult with the Division before constructing or remodelling buildings or providing any type of service so they could also include proper access for the disabled.
Furthermore, she said persons should listen to the disabled when they explain what their needs are.
“Listen to us, we know better than you do. Say how can we help you; do not treat me like a child; ask me how can I help you? Do you need any help or how can I help?
“People put you in this frame of mind where you are always a child to them; that is demeaning. It is also disrespectful. Persons with disabilities want to live with dignity.”
NASSAU, Bahamas — Consultant at the Department of Social Services Disability Affairs Division Iris Adderley talks about the need for persons with disabilities to have the same access to various types of services as persons without a disability during an interview at her office. (BIS photo/Patrick Hanna)