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Regional governments urged to do more for people with disabilities

Published:Thursday | May 26, 2022 | 5:39 PM
Dr W Aubrey Webson - Contributed photo

BALI, Indonesia, CMC –

A visually-impaired Caribbean diplomat is arguing that the region needs to provide for people with disabilities in disaster risk reduction planning, and life in general.

“Clearly, whenever we are making arrangements that is related to disaster risk, we must put in place methods and measures to ensure that persons with disability and their needs are responded to,” said Dr W Aubrey Webson, Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the United Nations.

Speaking with the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) on the side-lines of the seventh session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, taking place in Bali, Webson said that Caribbean countries need to ensure that the physical structures are there to allow persons with disability access in and out of facilities, including public buildings.

“We need to make sure that there are opportunities that if somebody has a hearing impairment, that they can get the message that there's a pending disaster just as anybody else can,” he said.

“We need to be sure that the facilities are available to provide information – whether it is through the spoken word or through text or through using sign language – so persons who have varying disabilities can get the same information and preferably at the same time as others who do not have a disability.”

The Antigua and Barbuda diplomat said that people should not see providing for the needs of disabled as an additional cost or burden, noting that Caribbean countries have signed on to international instruments protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

“Our building codes should be redesigned so that from the onset, we are able to build the appropriate needs that persons with disability have to have,” said Webson.

“Every public facility should not only have ramps, they should have accommodating bathrooms…they should have access that persons with disabilities can easily use. So, at times, there might be cost implications. But if the policy and the laws that protect persons with disability are implemented, then that should not be an issue.”

He said that the international conventions call for “reasonable accommodation”, adding, “so it isn't that we are asking you to break down a whole building and construct something new.

“It is for reasonable accommodation. It is clear that if you're building something, you must ensure that you have the access for the person with disabilities included in your building plans, whether it's a home or a public facility, churches, etc.”

Webson, who has been blind from childhood, is an institutional development consultant, who has lectured at universities in the United States and Africa.

He said the Caribbean has come a long way since his days growing up as a visually-impaired child, who went on to attend university in Jamaica, “and clearly we have a long way to go”.

Webson said much progress has been made over the last 25 years, with people with disabilities attending universities, especially in Jamaica, and across the region, people with disabilities hold prominent positions.

“Antigua and Barbuda, where they showed the clear example that we have no barriers inhibiting persons with disabilities if they have the capacity, as I am appointed to the highest ambassadorial office,” he said, adding that there is also a visually impaired person “very high within the Attorney General's office”.

He noted that there are visually-impaired senators in Barbados and Jamaica and a person who uses a wheelchair was a lawmaker in Trinidad some years ago.

“The question is: 'Are we utilising those opportunities so that families will know that their children can aspire, based on seeing other persons?'” Webson reasoned.

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