Students Participate in a Virtual Disability Awareness Forum

Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development, Michael Foulkes addressing the 2021 Virtual Disability Awareness High School Forum from his office. (BIS Photo/Matt Maura)

Students from across The Bahamas recently participated in a virtual Disability Awareness High School forum that allowed officials to take their education and awareness campaign to a key sector of society – young persons of High School age. The forum was organized by the Disability Affairs Division of the Department of Social Services and the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and its Secretariat.

Addressing the virtual forum via ZOOM, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development, Michael Foulkes, told his high school audience that the Ministry, its partners and stakeholders, will continue to maximize their efforts to sensitize the Bahamian community as to the issues and challenges that face the community of persons with disabilities in an effort to get more and more persons to see beyond the community’s “disabilities” and instead focus on their abilities.

Knowledge and awareness, Parliamentary Foulkes said, are: “the very first steps towards that understanding”. “Persons with disabilities face tremendous challenges on every level, one of which is discrimination,” Mr. Foulkes continued, “in many instances they are treated unfairly as a result of a condition over which they have no control.

“Constant efforts, therefore, have to be made to educate and to sensitize the wider Bahamian community as to the issues and the challenges that face persons with disabilities daily. We cannot say that enough. With awareness comes understanding, and understanding produces a change of attitude, then of behaviour. That is what we are striving for and it is our fervent hope that by the Grace of God and our continued efforts at education and awareness, that we will be successful.

“And that is the reason so many students were invited to be a part of this forum today,” Mr. Foulkes told the students. “To you – each student participating in this forum – the aim is for you to take what you will learn today and share it with your peers so that the message will be spread far and wide on school campuses everywhere throughout this country that indeed, persons with disabilities can and do exceptional things in our society and contribute just as mightily as anyone and everyone else do.”

Held under the theme: “Thriving with a Disability in Bahamian Society”, speakers addressed a number of areas including the various and most common types of disabilities and their causes. Students also heard of the protection afforded to persons with disabilities under the law, and also learnt about disability etiquette – the dos and don’ts of how to interact with persons with disabilities – along with other matters relative to the community of persons with disabilities.

Parliamentary Secretary Foulkes told the students that while there are still no accurate figures of the number of persons with disabilities in The Bahamas, it was important to note that at the last review, it was estimated that there were approximately 10,300 “of our brothers and sisters” living with disabilities in The Bahamas.

(The Ministry, in collaboration with the National Commission of Persons with Disabilities, the Secretariat of the National Commission of Persons with Disabilities, the Disability Affairs Division, Department of Social Services and the Urban Renewal Commission, Min. of Social Services and Urban Development, in collaboration with other partners and stakeholders, has undertaken registration drives in communities across The Bahamas in order to determine the number of persons living with disabilities in-country.) “We are making a special effort to register persons with disabilities because we want to ensure that as we put in place policies, that as we allocate funds, persons with disabilities are counted in the number, and that adequate funds are made available to ensure inclusion,”

Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Frankie A. Campbell recently told Parliament during his Contribution to the Mid-Term Budget (March 9, 2021). “But we will not be able accomplish that objective if we do not know how many persons are living with disabilities in our communities. We want to ensure that if there is a natural disaster pending and there is a need for evacuation, we know who is where and who needs assistance in being evacuated (and) so we have partnered with the Urban Renewal Commission as they do their walk-a-bouts, to have persons from the Secretariat join them as we continue the process of
registering persons with disabilities.”

Parliamentary Secretary Foulkes told his student audience that, “Living with a disability does not mean that those persons do not have the ability to live wholesome lives.”

Mr. Foulkes congratulated the organizers of the event, and in particular Mr. Kendrick Rolle, Technical Programmes Officer in the Disability Affairs Division, Department of Social Services, Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development, “for hosting a most worthwhile, engaging and educational forum.”

“Mr. Rolle is a prime example of a person who refuses to allow his disability to constrain or limit him,” Mr. Foulkes said. “Furthermore, his determination to keep persons with disabilities in the forefront is most noteworthy and commendable. He has an indomitable spirit and I want to thank and applaud him for the work he is doing, has done.”

Mr. Rolle, who is blind, applauded the students for their participation. He made one request of them: “I am so delighted that so many of you guys took the time to be a part of this very important, educational and exciting forum. It is my expectation that whatever is learnt here today, that you will go and share it with other students/colleagues as part of our efforts to bring greater awareness across the country about persons with disabilities, disabilities and all of the related matters that go along with the community of persons with disabilities.”