Groups team up to promote disability awareness

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NASSAU, The Bahamas – Representatives from the Community of Persons with Disabilities, their advocacy and stakeholder groups, and partners, including the Disability Affairs Division, Department of Social Services, and the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and its Secretariat, observed the United Nation’s International Day for Persons with Disability Friday (December 3).

Celebrated under the theme: “Leadership and Participation of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world,” the Day is used one of the many opportunities to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities at every level of society and development, and to raise awareness of the importance of including persons with disabilities in all aspects of life be it social, political, economic and/or cultural.

Officials say: “There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.” The quote is taken from the writings of Robert M. Hensel who was born with the birth defect known as Spina bifida. Mr. Hensel holds the Guinness World Record for the longest “wheelie” in a wheelchair.

IDPD was also observed as part of the week-long celebrations of Disability Awareness Week in The Bahamas. The Week helps to complete/jump start the year-round efforts to promote access and inclusion for all and to showcase “disability pride and the abilities and capabilities of the community of persons with disabilities rather than focusing on their disabilities.”

Held under the theme: “Inclusion for All”, the Week got underway Saturday (November, 27) with a Walk and Motorcade from the Stapledon School, Dolphin Drive. Those activities were followed by a Church Service at Living Waters Kingdom Ministries (Sunday, November 30) and a Virtual Forum that took place on Tuesday, November 30. Many other activities were scheduled throughout the
Week, including the first Disability ICON Awards Ceremony at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.

Ms. Kim Sawyer, Acting Director, the Department of Social Services, said while the celebration/commemoration of the Theme Week brings focused attention to the community for a specific timeframe (in this case November 27- December 4), the Department — through the Disability Affairs Division — works diligently to ensure that focused attention is paid to the community of persons with disabilities year-round.

“At the Department of Social Services, our mission is to help everyone whatever their challenges may be,” Ms. Sawyer said. “When the Department was first started over 50 years ago, there was no Unit that dealt specifically with persons with disabilities, but we now serve as an umbrella for the community of persons with disabilities and the organizations that advocate on their behalf, to bring them together, to advocate on behalf of those persons, to identify their needs, and to focus special attention to the community and those organizations, all the while doing our utmost to see how best we can assist them.

“There is great significance in celebrating the Theme Week, but again, we work year-round at the Disability Affairs Division and the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and its Secretariat, in doing our utmost to assist the community, not just today and/or this week,” Ms. Sawyer added.

Mrs. Annette Lunn, a Sign Language Interpreter who has volunteered her expertise at the national level in support of the community of persons who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing and is an advocate for that particular community of persons, has seen her advocacy blossom to become generational, as her son Kelvin, who is Deaf, and granddaughter, Tamera, (Kelvin’s daughter) have joined in on her advocacy.

(Sign Language Interpreters help to bridge the communication gap for the community. Sign Languages are an extremely important communications tool for members of the community of persons who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing.) “Tamera is what they call a CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult) and she has been signing from an early age. She is now 6,” Mrs. Lunn said. “Both her mom and dad are deaf. The deaf community feel a little disenfranchised in that sometimes they are feeling that they are not a part of the general community. As more persons begin to learn the language, they will feel that inclusiveness in our community. I have been signing because I feel as though everybody should be involved in every aspect of our society; that there should be inclusion for all.”

Mrs. Lunn called the observance of Disability Awareness Week “important” as it allows the community to further showcase their abilities, rather than any disability they may be living with.

“The importance of this Disability Awareness Week is to showcase the abilities, the capabilities of our persons with disabilities be they deaf, blind and/or visually impaired, in a wheelchair, or persons who live with intellectual disabilities (Autism, Down’s Syndrome among others) and other disabilities, and to take the focus off their disabilities which don’t define them. My son, Kelvin, is a very proud
deaf person.

“By the way, we all have some level of disability. Some may not be as visible as those of others, and some persons may not even be aware that they are living with a disability. For example, I wear glasses and so I have limited abilities as far as my vision is concerned. Let us continue to showcase the abilities of the community of persons with disabilities and not focus on their disabilities. Let us all continue to work and push for inclusion as our theme speaks to. There has to be inclusion for the community of persons with disabilities.”

Mrs. Lunn spoke of her work with the community as a Sign Language Interpreter. “Whatever is being said to the wider community has to be said to the community of persons who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing. Being Deaf/Hard of Hearing should never limit any person in the community from access to information especially if it is critical information such as an impending storm or hurricane, or information emanating from the House of Assembly, etcetera. That’s why it is important to have a Sign Language Interpreters. I am now seeing where some television stations are Close Captioning their information and that is awesome, but whatever is being said has to be on time,” Mrs. Lunn added.

Source: Bahamas Information Services, By Matt Maura