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Disability is not Inability, including in Parliament

Disability is not Inability, including in Parliament


Today’s issue of SEARCHLIGHT includes several opinions which express revulsion at comments made by a prominent Opposition parliamentarian about the ability of one of his colleagues to contest the next general elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The comments, made by ‘Major’ St Clair Leacock ruled out the participation of former Prime Minister and President of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Arnhim Eustace as a candidate in the next elections. Mr Eustace has successfully held the East Kingstown seat in Parliament since 1998.

In recent years, advancing age and health challenges have limited his participation and in 2017, he gave up the presidency of his party and the leadership of the Opposition, but remained in Parliament as constituency representative. There has been much speculation about whether he would continue in this role and who would succeed him. However there has as yet been no official statement from the NDP.

Clearly there seems to be some disconnect, of a major nature at that, at the leadership level in the NDP, for Mr Leacock to make such an important announcement, albeit unofficial, then have to retract it.

But even more serious than the disconnect at the leadership level of the NDP is the implication of Mr Leacock’s comment for people with disabilities.

What does physical mobility have to do with one’s own capacity to lead or to represent people? Sadly, this sort of prejudice against persons with some form of disability or physical challenge is uncomfortably widespread. Many voters would be reluctant to vote for a candidate who is blind or physically challenged, wrongly believing that this would affect that person’s ability to provide effective representation and leadership.

But that has not been the global experience. The much-celebrated US President Franklyn Roosevelt was wheelchair bound after being paralysed from the waist down. This did not prevent him from being one of the most celebrated US Presidents. Many other prominent Congressional representatives and senators suffered from one sort of disability or the other. So it is all over the world, including Jamaica where Floyd Morris not only became the first blind member of the Senate in 1998, but went on to become a Government Minister and President of the Senate in 2013.

It is time that these outmoded, discriminatory attitudes against persons with physical disabilities be buried once and for all. Worse, it is totally unacceptable from persons in national leadership. Disability is definitely not inability.