By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS National Council for Disability president Townsend Roberts yesterday defended proposed disability legislation against criticism that it did not address the needs of adults with disabilities.
Mr Roberts expressed confidence in the bill’s timely passage into law, and outlined several clauses in the proposed legislation that addressed the education and retraining; employment; accessibility and mobility of adult disabled persons.
Mr Roberts said: “There are a myriad of issues facing persons with disabilities and everyone has a right to their opinions but those opinions also need to be based in fact.”
“NGO’s like BNCD, membership is made up of more than 30 adults, thus it was in our own interest to concern ourselves with how adults with disabilities such as myself and others throughout the Bahamas would benefit from this proposed legislation.”
He added: “We boast of being a Christian nation but even in a Christian nation it sometimes takes legislation to give equal rights and opportunities to groups such as the disabled and force a cultural change in how persons with disabilities are viewed in this country.”
Among bill clauses listed: 13, provides for a person with a disability to have equal access to opportunities for suitable employment; 14, provides for vocational training skills development and training programmes for the disabled; 15, for person with disabilities not to be discriminated against by employers; 18, provides for the Minister of Housing to collaborate with the Commission to address Housing needs for persons with disabilities; 20 and 21, provides that all proprietors of public buildings and public service vehicles shall adapt them to suit persons with disabilities within two years after this Bill comes into operation or on such other date as the Minister may appoint; and 31, provides that persons with disabilities shall not be excluded from the educational system.
Pointing to the proposed structure of the national disability commission, Mr Roberts explained that of the seven members drafted from the disabled community, at least one will be selected as chairperson or vice-chairperson of the body.
Mr Roberts said: “As you can see, persons with direct interest are at the forefront of this legislation and the formulation of the policies related to this bill and the thrust to help change the mindset of Bahamian towards persons with this disability.
“The government through the Ministry of Social Services and Development has engaged those that will be most affected by this bill,” he said, “not just the community of persons with disabilities but also the church, organisations representing labour and employers, civil society and private businesses that would be directly affected.
Mr Roberts said the bill was crafted after an extensive public consultation process, which gathered widespread feedback from Non-government Organizations(NGO’s), parents, caregivers and other individuals throughout the country.
Mr Roberts said: “I have traveled with the government to several of the Family Islands as part of their public consultation process. In those meetings, individuals and NGO’s alike made verbal and written recommendation. The consultation process was open to all individuals who wished to make suggestions and all submissions were considered.”
He added: “With the Bahamas becoming the 157th country to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 24th, 2013, we the stakeholders who have worked many hours on this proposed bill have every belief that this legislation will be tabled, debated and passed in short order and that it will be effective in its purpose.”
• In an article published on May 30, the BNCD was incorrectly described as the national disabilities commission. The Bahamas National Council for disability was established in 1973, and is a Non-Governmental Umbrella Organization (NGO) for Persons with Disabilities.
The national commission, as proposed by the legislation, is a body made up of 15 members – five from the community of persons with disabilities; five ministries: works, youth, sports and culture, health, education, and transport; one member representing unions, civic groups and employers each; and two representing caregivers.