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
Why haven’t I added my own voice to hers
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.