Laudable budgetary support for persons with disabilities

The 2021 National Budget has catered for persons with disabilities in a significant way with the $120 million earmarked for various projects and assistance. However, what is noteworthy and praiseworthy is the fact that Government indeed listened to the concerns and need of the persons with disabilities and made proper provisions for them. In August 2020, the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (GCOPD), the umbrella body representing persons with disabilities, issued a strong call for steps to be taken to ensure that the national developmental plans are inclusionary and create equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.
The organisation listed a number of concerns which it would have liked to see the Government address to make life more comfortable and meaningful for persons living with disabilities. These requests include: opportunities for employment of qualified and skilled PWDs in the public sector; improvements in the delivery of education to children with disabilities; provision of low-income housing for PWDs; and provision of assistive and mobility aids.
It also called for yearly subventions to be allocated to disabled people’s organisations (DPOs); the modification and enforcement of building codes to promote accessibility to public buildings, and allocation of small contracts to companies owned and operated by PWDs; and to promote small business development in the disability community.
That representation manifested itself in the 2021 National Budget with the allocation of $120 million to safeguard the rights of persons living with disabilities, along with $50 million to the National Commission on Disability, and plans to build a $30 million complex at Mahaica for vocational training for persons with disabilities.
Around the world, more than one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, are living with a disability.
Here, in Guyana, based on figures that were released by Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony, about 50,000 persons are living with disabilities. Importantly, and of great significance to note, is that the minister said: “many people living with disability in Guyana are not easily visible. This is indeed a stark reminder of the importance of removing barriers for all people living with disabilities.”
Many would agree there is quite a lot of work needed at all levels to ensure that persons with disabilities are treated with respect, and have access to the necessary resources to help them cope with the challenges they are likely to face. Guyana can boast of a good track record in relation to providing quality education for persons, irrespective of geographic location, race, religion or gender; however, there is still much work to be done to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal opportunity to acquire an education.
When persons with disabilities are given a chance to acquire a good education, or are taught a skill, they are in a better position to secure a job, and in turn break the cycle of poverty that normally defines such situations.
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.
As explained by the World Health Organisation (WHO), rather than considering disability as an issue of medicine, charity or dependency, the Convention challenges people worldwide to understand disability as a human rights issue.
The 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 communication. The Convention also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination which are often reasons why people with disabilities are excluded from education, employment, and health and other services.
The authorities here must continue to allocate resources to ensure that all impediments that affect the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in society are removed. This, of course, would require working to change attitudes that fuel stigma and institutionalised discrimination. Persons with disabilities must integrated and empowered, creating opportunities for forging meaningful paths toward the enjoyment of a good quality of life.