Monday, March 04, 2013

Calling for Rights for Persons With Disabilities in The Bahamas

I am standing with the President of the Bahamas National Council for Disability and calling for a constitutional amendment that protects the fundamental human rights of and prohibits the discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Mrs Sheila Culmer spoke on behalf of an estimated 27,000 Bahamians with disabilities on Thursday when she addressed the Constitutional Committee meeting in Nassau demanding a provision in the constitution prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities. She said the clause should cover both direct and indirect discrimination. She advised the committee that there must be an inclusion of a provision guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities to have access and be provided with legal aid and affordable legal services to ensure they have access to justice. And too, Mrs Culmer advised, the constitution must be amended to include an express provision mandating persons with disabilities have access to adequate transport, housing, healthcare and education.

This is a big deal. It is unacceptable that our constitution fails to define and protect the human rights of persons with disabilities, ie, persons like me. 

This, combined with the fact that the constitution also fails to protect me as a woman, means I am at risk every day for a spectrum of human rights abuses in my country, both directly and indirectly, in both small and enormous, devastating ways.  

Why are we still having to petition our governments for these kind of constitutional reforms in this day and age? Why can’t one government or another simply fix these glaring human rights problems with the constitution, without the whole referendum thing? Some amendments should be made without being put to a public vote. We elect governments to lead, so let them lead at times like these. At least, let them listen. I remember Mrs Culmer advocating for human rights for persons with disabilities since my reporting days back in the eighties. Why has her voice fallen on deaf ears? 

Why haven’t I added my own voice to hers until now?

Comfort. Privilege. Laziness. Selfishness.  

But recent events in my personal life have shaken me out of my complacency. I am having to face the fact that I am indeed at risk every day for human rights abuses because I am a person with disabilities. Mrs Culmer’s statements in the middle of my current struggle are a wake-up call for me, reminding me of my obligation to publicly join her in the call for this constitutional amendment. Her statements have made me mindful of all the many Bahamian citizens with disabilities who are also burdened with poverty because for them the risks for human rights abuses are far greater. I feel compelled to use my voice to speak for those who have lost their voices or are ignored, to join mine with the other voices  demanding human rights reform in this country.

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