In a few days’ time, Guyana will join the rest of the world in observing World Disability Day under the theme “United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with, and by persons with disabilities”.
The annual December 3 observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons (IDDP) was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 47/3. Today, more than 1.3 billion people, which represents 16 per cent of the global population, experience significant disability. However, observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
One of the primary goals of IDDP is to break down barriers that hinder the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society. This includes physical barriers, such as inaccessible buildings and transportation, and societal barriers, such as discrimination and stigma.
IDDP encourages the populace to reflect on the progress made, and the work that still needs to be done, to create a truly inclusive world; since many individuals have overcome obstacles to excel in various fields, proving that disability does not define a person’s capabilities.
Reports show that many persons with disabilities die earlier, are at increased risk of developing a range of health conditions, and experience more limitations in everyday functioning than the rest of the population.
We call these poorer health outcomes “health inequities” because they are largely avoidable and are driven by unjust factors within and beyond the health sector.
These health inequities are a stark reminder that persons with disabilities are too often left behind, and that achieving good health and well-being for all (SDG3) requires the meaningful participation and empowerment of persons with disabilities.
Here, in Guyana, in August 2020, there was the turning of the sod for the construction of a $130 million Business Center for persons living with disabilities. More importantly, that was the first of more such regional centres to be established.
The initiative is the brainchild of First Lady Arya Ali, and upon completion, it will facilitate the manufacturing of products, and offer retail space, technical training, and therapy for persons living with disabilities. Back in May, President Dr Irfaan Ali had reported that the facility is nearing completion. To date, it has not been opened.
It is proven that when persons with disabilities are given a chance to acquire a good education, or are taught a skill, or are able financially to support themselves, they are in a better position to break the cycle of poverty that normally defines such situations.
In a more general sense, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is necessary for countries not only to adopt, but to implement fully, because it is a tool for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to the same rights and opportunities as everybody else.
The UN Convention covers many areas where obstacles can arise, such as physical access to buildings, roads and transportation, and access to information through written and electronic communications. The Convention also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination, which are often reasons why people with disabilities are excluded from education, employment, health, and other services.
In Guyana, only recently, the National Youth with Disabilities Conference was held with a pledge from the United States Government to support youths in advocating for due inclusion, rights, and a seat at the decision-making table.
At the event, United States Ambassador to Guyana, Nicole Theriot, underscored that Guyana, like many countries, still has work to do in ensuring full rights for persons with disabilities.
In addition, Programme Manager at GCOPD, Ganesh Singh, outlined during the conference that youths would be able to assess the current disability landscape and strategise to ensure that their rights are implemented. Singh added that, in recent years, significant support has been given in the areas advocated for.