Secretary of the St.Kitts-Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities wheelchair user Travia Douglas (inset smiling photo provided) being assisted by colleague Jamal Herbert having been dropped off at the office located at the McKnight Community Centre this week via the association’s transport bus. (Spokesman Snap)

BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 23rd August 2019) – Individuals who are physically challenged, though differently abled, lead normal lifestyles and should have the opportunities to uplift their quality of life in various areas including accessibility to sidewalks and buildings throughout St.Kitts-Nevis.  

Such is the level of understanding that the St.Kitts-Nevis Association of Persons With Disabilities wants society to have as voiced by immediate past president Anthony ‘Tony’ Mills (who is wheelchair user) during an interview with this media house this week ahead of the Disabled People’s International North America and the Caribbean (DPI NAC) 10th regional Assembly to be held at the Royal St.Kitts Hotel in Frigate Bay (23rd to 25th August). 

For the first time, the seminar will be hosted in the Federation.

“It’s been hosted all over the Caribbean. We are glad that we have this chance to host and showcase our little island,” Mills remarked speaking to this reporter at the association’s office space at the McKnight Community Centre.

He listed some of the topics expected to be covered such as: What is going on in the region, the rights of persons with disabilities, finding out which countries have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) as well as what are the best practices outside of the region for consideration.

He informed that persons with disabilities in St.Kitts-Nevis make up about 10 to 15 per cent of the population.

“There needs to be more sidewalks all over the island and not just in down town Basseterre. There are sidewalks all over the country and the sidewalks don’t have any ramps but down town Basseterre is well-equipped so it makes us wonder if they only do it for the tourists. I’ve told the government that so they know. We wonder that because outside of down town Basseterre, there isn’t much that is done in terms of accessibility to the sidewalks; there are some but not complete and we think when they’re putting in the sidewalks, we think that this should be automatic,” he responded when asked about his association’s wish list.

It is also hoped that the buildings codes will be looked at to address the issues related accessibility.

As gathered, the UNCRPD has yet to be signed and has been outstanding since 2006.

“There are quite a few countries in the region that have either signed it and put it on the shelf or signed it and ratified it. Most of the Caribbean islands have only signed it but have quite a bit have ratified it also and put in place the enacting legislation that would bring it into force,” Mills disclosed.

Countries include Jamaica, Cuba, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda.

Mills gave his personal take on the perceived slowness for more governments around the region to affix their signatures to the UN document.

“I think most governments that haven’t signed it just don’t want to look at costs because there would be a cost to implement some of the articles in it… because if they sign it and ratify it then they have to begin looking to implement the articles in it. For some reason, if there is a choice between two things and one is for persons with disabilities and one is for persons not with disabilities, they always look at what the one that is for persons with disabilities will cost and they will put off that one …and to me they should look at the human costs because they human costs is greater than any financial costs and see that sometimes they could do the one for persons with disabilities because we are behind.”

Despite the ongoing challenges on the local scene, he acknowledges that there has been some improvement.

In 2017, the association got a transportation bus bought by the SIDF (Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation) and there is an ongoing training programme at the McKnight Community Centre with participants and facilitators being paid through the STEP (Skills Training Empowerment Programme).

Additionally, Mills informed that there are plans to install an elevator at Government Headquarters and another government building.

“Our organisation has been around since 1982. This is the third administration since our organisation has been around and we are still fighting for some of the same things. I mean some stuff has been done, there has been some improvements in certain areas but there is still a whole lot to do. I like to say that there should be some sort of affirmative action type of programme to allow persons with disabilities to catch up because we are way behind in terms of society here in the Federation,” Mills commented.

In accordance with him, persons with disabilities especially the young ones feel left out of society and to address such concern, they should be given the same opportunities.

“Talk to young people with disabilities and they feel like they are being left out of the society. This is what I hear from them all the time. Sometimes you have to look at that human costs. These young people are growing up; they are depressed and they are angry because it seems like society doesn’t want them and if you talk to them, they want everything that other young people want. They listen to the same music, they wear the same clothes, they watch the same movies and they want to go out to the same places and they want to have their own homes if they have a job. All the same things that you hear any young person talk about, you’ll hear young people with disabilities talk about because they want the same things so they have to be given the same opportunities.”

Mills added: “That’s kind of what we’re looking at and kind of what the conference they are having this weekend will look at… stuff like that and how we could get the governments in the region to see these things and begin to work on them.”