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Handicapped or disabled?


Editor: I wish to draw your attention to a minority group in our country that is often neglected and does not receive the attention that they duly deserve. I refer to that percentage of our population who are different because of some form of disability. These persons are often labelled as “handicapped.” {{more}}

Let me point out that there is a difference between a disability and a handicap. A disability is the inability to do something or not being able to fully perform in a specific way. This can be caused by a number of factors such as physical disability, emotional or behavioural disorders, impaired hearing, impaired sight or mental retardation. A handicap, on the other hand, is a disadvantage that the person experiences as a result of the disability.

It is therefore safe to say that one can be disabled without being handicapped and this is relative to many tasks if the proper tools and supporting structures are provided.

I must hasten to say that individuals with disabilities are unique persons just like everyone else. Even if they are unable to do something because of a specific impairment, this does not mean that they should be looked upon as a “lesser human being.” Instead they should be driven or encouraged to focus on what they can do as opposed to what they cannot do. We should not allow a person’s disability to prevent us from seeing their ability and the beauty that they possess inside. Nevertheless, this is what happens because as community members, we often fail to recognize the talents and skills that these individuals have.

While it is important that the disabilities be recognized for what they are, we should seek for opportunities to develop their abilities.

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines disabled persons often suffer from discrimination whether because of prejudice or out of sheer ignorance. They also lack access to essential services. As affirmed by the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, persons with disabilities are entitled to exercise their civil, political, social and cultural rights on an equal basis with non-disabled persons.

While we have come a long way in recognizing the disabled among us, there needs to be a greater effort to help them to integrate socially. Laws need to be put in place to protect this group of individuals from victimization and abuse and lawbreakers should be harshly dealt with.

This group of our population needs special education and related services if they are to achieve their full human potential. Special material, teaching techniques or equipment and facilities may be required. It is advised that children be included in the normal classroom where they will be placed in the least restrictive environment. This will ensure that they are educated in a normal environment as possible. With this view it means that facilities will have to be in place to make this possible.

The strength of a society can be tested by the way they treat the disabled and the disadvantaged. Provision should be made by the relevant authority for obtaining suitable transportation so that they may be easily wheeled on with as much safety as possible. Medical treatment and counselling are important. There should also be space reserved in car parks. Ramps and lifts should also be included in buildings so that they can have easy access to public buildings and supermarkets.

Wherever possible everything should be done to allow them to lead a full and productive life.

More needs to be done to sensitize the general public about the rights of the disabled. They need to be seen as people who should have equal treatment and access to essential services. It is critical that we treat this special group of individuals with respect and dignity. They have a right to enjoy the privileges that any other citizen enjoys. While we give them our support by helping them to accept the things that they cannot change, we need to change our attitude toward them so that they can live as normal as possible.

Enna Bullock


(Caribbean Union College)