Pertinent issues regarding people living with disabilities were extensively discussed at a two-day Biennial Regional Council meeting held at Heritage Hotel, over the weekend.
Executive Director of Disabled Peoples’ International North America and the Caribbean, Leslie Emanuel, said that a meeting of this nature was held here in Antigua 13 years ago at the same location, but this one was more beneficial because the Regional Council was more engaged and more effective discussions were held.
One of the main highlights of the meeting was the presentation of country reports.
In attendance were council members, observers and volunteers from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.
According to Emanuel, some of the main issues of concern to persons with disabilities are very common in all countries. He said he was pleased with the forum.
“This was a perfect place to sit down and discuss what is happening in St. Kitts, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, etc., so once persons speak and make their reports, you can use the information in your country. Also, we are incorporated here in Antigua and Barbuda and the Council decided to review amendments and by-laws.”
One of the main issues discussed was the need to establish national youth and women networks to groom, train and prepare persons as they assume leading positions in the movement.
Emanuel also underscored the importance of not leaving persons with disabilities out of the loop when it comes to matters concerning them.
“As was discussed and is recognized, persons with disabilities must be the ones to consult with first and foremost; don’t assume that you are a specialist; doctors themselves, in my experience, have listened and learned from their patients. I have proven to myself and to others that with my input into my treatment, I have gotten better treatment. It speaks to the fact that if persons with disabilities are fully involved in discussions in the government programmes of any country, it helps us all.”
Emanuel said Antigua and Barbuda had strong representation at the meeting including the President of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Persons with Disabilities Bernard Warner and other local persons with disabilities.
Executive Director of the United States International Council on Disabilities, Isabel Hodge, who was in Antigua for the meeting, said 16 countries comprising the Caribbean, the United States and Canada provided their reports to the President of DPI North America and the Caribbean.
She said some of the issues brought to the table were very general to include unemployment and access to accessible health care.
Warner said he was impressed with the ideas discussed relating to the formation of a national youth council and women’s network.
“This will empower women and youth with disabilities to do more in their respective organizations. The ABAPD saw the meeting as an opportunity to lobby and to contribute to a platform and empowerment of the human rights of persons with disabilities not just here in Antigua and Barbuda but throughout the world,” he said.
“We saw democracy at its best; the Council heard the views and reports from the regional organizations on what’s happening. We saw best practices and we were able to ask each other questions and to adopt programmes happening in other places.”
The passage of the Draft Disability Bill through Parliament and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are among the top priorities of the local disability movement. On January 7, 2016, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.