Guyana Council of Organizations for Persons with Disabilities
Chairman – Cecil Morris
ON this day, as we observe International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) under the theme “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world”. Let us be reminded that the community of persons with disabilities (PWDs) remains a vulnerable and marginalized group within our Guyanese society, living on the fringes of our society. The plethora of issues plaguing the lives of PWDs are still present. Each year we highlight the circumstance of this marginalized group in our population with the hope of long term structural sustainable changes. However, this is far from becoming a reality.
We do acknowledge, that over the past two years, much has been done by the Government of Guyana to include persons with disabilities in the development thrust and implement measures to improve their lives. While the community of PWDs has received some benefits, we are still a far away from the achievement of full inclusion. This can only be achieved through the implementation of the contents of the Guyana PWD Act 2010 in a timely manner.
It is no secret that this community of vulnerable people has always been forced to live on the fringes of society, resulting from the stigma and discrimination and social barriers they must face daily.
The United Nations (UN) has aptly coined this year’s theme, “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world” for this year’s IDPD observances. This theme was not just chosen without reason. The UN has recognized the difficulties PWDs have faced and the need for the inclusion of this community of persons.
We do recognize and appreciate the strides we have made as a country to promote and fulfill the rights of PWDs. The Guyana PWD Act was enacted in 2010 under the leadership of former President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo. This was a significant development for the disability community. It has provided the legal framework to create the enabling environment to promote a more inclusive and accessible Guyana, however progress in this area has been limited. This lack of progress can be attributed to the reluctance from some stakeholders to implement the contents of the legislation. Because of this lack of implementation, key issues and gaps exist in PWDs accessing their inherent human rights, thus being unable to live independent lives. For this missive, the focus would be on three rights areas, accessibility, education, and employment.
It is explicitly stated in the Guyana PWD Act that all public buildings should be accessible for all PWDs. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. PWDs who are wheelchair users and with mobility challenges are unable to access most public buildings. Sadly, there is no movement to make these existing buildings accessible and wheelchair friendly. We are seeing an increase in the construction of new buildings for public access, but most of these structures are inaccessible for PWDs. Our building codes are not properly enforced, and these building owners are allowed to construct buildings that are inaccessible; hence discriminating against PWDs. Remember PWDs have the right to access and have a desire to be independent. This is only possible if our public buildings are accessible. Note, not just the entrance, but the interior of the buildings. We must have accessible washrooms with wide doorways. It must be highlighted that our sidewalks are an absolute nightmare for PWDs to traverse. Persons who are blind and persons who are wheelchair users cannot use these walkways. They are forced to use the roadways, putting themselves in the path of danger.
In the area of employment, qualified and skilled working age PWDs are still unable to access employment in this modern age. This lack of employment opportunities can be attributed to employers being uninformed about the capabilities of PWDs. Most persons are of the view that these individuals are unable to work and cannot be productive. This lack of awareness of the abilities of PWDs is grounded in the culture that exists in which PWDs are viewed as dependents and objects of charity. Resulting from this misconception and inequity, the majority of PWDs live in poverty and are dependent on charity for their survival. This is not the way PWDs want to live in a developed society. In a post COVID-19 Guyana, PWDs want to have more employment opportunities both in the public and private sectors. We are optimistic that this would be realize, premise on our discussions with His Excellency Dr. Irfaan Ali and some of his Ministers and with the efforts of Her Excellency Arya Ali in advocating for the employment of PWDs.
As we observe IDPD 2022, one of our main focuses should be on creating a rift in the intimate relationship between disability and poverty. For two long, we have allowed this relationship to flourish causing great hardship on a community of approximately forty-eight thousand (48,000) persons (2002 National Population Census).
As we move forward to build a better and inclusive Guyana in an oil and gas economy, we should ensure that PWDs are not left behind and are included in all aspects of development and society as equal partners. We need all stakeholders to work in unison to ensure PWDs have an equal opportunity to live independent productive lives. Guyana do remember anyone can acquire a disability.