–local advocates call for reformation of Disability Act
DISABILITY rights advocates here are calling for an overhaul of the Disability Act to lend more accessibility and inclusion to the local education system to accommodate children living with disabilities across Guyana.
During a virtual panel discussion in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities last week, Ganesh Singh, a disability rights advocate and Commissioner at the National Commission on Disability stated that the Disability Act, in its present form, offers no special treatment to individuals, especially children living with a disability in the country. “A lot of persons are of the perception that having a Disability Act gives persons with disabilities special rights, Singh said, adding: “Well, it does not!”
What the Disability Act does, he said, is provide a legal framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of Persons Living With Disabilities in Guyana, who, at the last count, according to the 2002 Census, number around 49,000. Noting however that that figure has obviously grown tremendously over the years, Singh said the time is now ripe for there to be an Act that is not only all-inclusive, but also has the scope to ensure that Persons Living With Disabilities are given the same opportunities and equal rights as every other citizen.
Using the fundamental right to an education as a benchmark, Singh said, “Every child has a right to an education; in Guyana, many children with disabilities are allowed to go to school, however, it is not just about them going into school and sitting in a classroom; it is about them learning and acquiring something substantial.”
In terms of how the Disability Act can be of help, he said, “For persons who are deaf and even wheelchair users, schools must have ramps, information must be in braille, audio, or in digital form to someone who is blind; sign language interpretation and so on should be available for children in the classroom.”
He also made the point that a more reformed Disability Act will provide or facilitate the fulfillment of the rights of persons who are born and living with disabilities an equal playing field to excel, to be reproductive, and to be independent.
‘But for this to be a reality, he said, members and advocates of the disability community need to join forces and make a call to take the Disability Act one step further.
“Whenever we have a national assembly to call for amendments, call for the legislation in its current form, call for more anti-discriminatory, and I’m sure it will create a much more enabling environment for persons with disabilities,” Singh said.
Sharing similar sentiments as he was Leroy Phillips, who is also an advocate, and he noted that for persons living with disabilities, going to school or wanting to go to school has been and continues to be a challenge in Guyana.
Sharing his personal experience, Phillips said, “I remember when I started secondary school back in 2002, I just went to the school and sat there. And I went up to some of my classes, not knowing how things are supposed to be done.”
Phillips, who is a broadcaster and public relations officer for the Guyana Blind Cricket Association, said that thanks to his involvement in advocacy work, and a few programmes, he’s aware of what is supposed to be done in a classroom environment to make the curriculum and other in-classroom activities accessible to Persons Living With Disabilities.
“I learned as a blind person if you are going to the school, you are going to learn like anyone else,” Phillips said, adding: “Information now has to be prepared in a proper format that meets your accessibility needs; it is something that is overlooked in society.”
In closing, he made the point that the entire school system needs to be reformed to provide the proper accessibility required for students with disabilities to move around freely.