By FELICITY DARVILLE
PEOPLE living with disabilities are no different from any other kind of human being; all are deserving of the same level of respect and consideration, so that human rights are truly guaranteed to all. One of the major reasons why the rights of people living with disabilities are still not fully recognised is the fact that they are not included in enough decision-making processes. How can we truly accommodate their needs if we do not understand what those needs are through their own perspective? Nalini Bethel, long-time advocate, says it’s by including them in every facet of Bahamian life that we can reverse this trend.
“Inclusion can bridge the gap and completely change the way we think about, communicate with, and empower people living with disabilities,” she said.
“They deserve to be included in every decision being made - whether on a national or a community level. Nothing about us without us” is what most organisations for people with disabilities and the individuals themselves subscribe to and adhere to.”
With this in mind, Bahamas Disability Awareness Week 2023 is currently underway with the theme: “Inclusion in Action”.
Nalini, chairman of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, is calling on corporate Bahamas, churches, NGOs, other groups and individuals to sow seeds of love into causes that will directly and positively impact the lives of people living with disabilities in The Bahamas. This Friday, December 8, begins the National Disabilities Giving Drive. There’s a mammoth task at hand, but Nalini is confident that with the public’s help, a number of organisations dedicated to disabilities will be able to empower their members and directly impact the lives of people living with disabilities.
She is also a founding member of the REACH support group for autism, which today is a vibrant support group for parents and children on the autistic spectrum. She is also part of a small group that made a three-phase proposal to the government to achieve a cluster classroom at Garvin Tynes Primary School for children with autism. The Garvin Tynes cluster classroom was so successful that, today, there are special needs classrooms in several public schools in New Providence. Phase two was to include a day centre for people with disabilities who aged out of the school system. Phase three of the proposal was to provide a long-term boarding facility such as a group home.
“We are still working to achieve phases two and three,” she said.
Having also served as a commissioner on the National Commission for Special Education, Nalini found there was a great need for inclusion in education and, today, inclusion is most apparent in public schools.
REACH is The Bahamas’ resource and educational source for autism and other related challenges. As a non-profit organisation, REACH aims to provide parents with comprehensive knowledge and tools in all areas of this neurobiological disorder. REACH Bahamas has a wide variety of social activities throughout the year to make the public more socially aware of autism within the islands.
Nalini also lived and worked in the United States, where she continued to cultivate her passion for advocating for people living with disabilities. In her personal time, she was a member of the day programme committee of the Catholic Church in Broward County, which wrote grants to support the creation of a day-programme for people living with disabilities who had aged out of school. The church also recruited Best Buddies members as volunteers for the day programme.
“I joined a group home organisation called LIFE (Living Inclusively For Everyone) and experienced first-hand how a group home functions, how it is funded and the services that it provides,” Nalini shared.
LIFE also runs a day-programme for those with special needs that have aged out of school.
As a member of the parent-teacher association of an adult day programme sponsored by Broward County, Nalini gained valuable knowledge of legislation in Florida for the disabled. She was part of a group that went to the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee to lobby for the funding of the Broward County Day-Programme, which was a discretionary fund of the Florida Governor but needed the support of both the Senate and Congress.
She also learned how Transportation Options (TOPS), a county-sponsored, subsidised transportation system, functions and is funded and the National Commission is investigating the feasibility of a transportation system here in Nassau.
Nalini’s advocacy for people living with disabilities is just one aspect of her life - one enriched by her penchant for helping others. Following three decades in the tourism industry, she is now fully focused on her personal passion: to change the quality of life for people living with disabilities.
“My goal is to continue to work, contribute and serve the people of The Bahamas, especially those with challenges and some of the most vulnerable in our society,” she said.
“I have become familiar with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that The Bahamas ratified in 2015 and we must work to achieve these human rights and principles for the betterment of persons with disabilities.”
Disability Awareness Week provides an opportunity nationwide to show “Inclusion in Action”. The week began on December 1 with a T-Shirt Day, which will continue every Friday this month. On Saturday, December 2, a blindfold challenge held at the Blue Hill Road Sporting Complex gave participants the opportunity to experience what people who are blind go through on a daily basis. The event was fun and allowed able-bodied attendees to appreciate what it’s like to live with a disability. Beep baseball and archery were activities that were part of the Blindfold Challenge.
On Sunday, Disability Awareness Week was celebrated in a service of thanksgiving at Bahamas Harvest Church, RND Plaza, John F Kennedy Drive. On Thursday, the Bahamas Association for the Physically Disabled (BAPD) will host a Christmas programme at its Dolphin Drive Location at 11am. Saturday is Disability Love Day. The public is invited to attend a “Celebration of Unity and Strength Concert” at Stapledon School Auditorium, Dolphin Drive, from 2pm to 8pm.
Each year, the UN International Day for the Disabled is celebrated on December 3, and The Bahamas, along with 185 countries around the world, marked this occasion to raise awareness for the disabled.
All of the activities are organised in partnership with the Department of Social Services’ Disability Affairs Division, where people living with disabilities apply for assistance and benefits.
Nalini believes these events provide an opportunity for the public to come out and show support, donate, and to share love with the large community of people living with disabilities in The Bahamas. She is currently employed by the Ministry of Social Services, Information and Broadcasting as a consultant and functions as the chairman of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities. For a brief period, she also served as a Director of Special Olympics in The Bahamas.
It’s easy to participate in National Disabilities Giving Day, she said. Visit www.disabilitiescommissionbahamas.org for more details. You can learn more about the commission, read the Persons with Disabilities Act, learn about the rights of the disabled, source information for employers, and lodge complaints.
The National Commission has also launched an app - AccessAccessibility Bahamas - which gives very timely and useful information. It includes accessibility formats for those with disabilities and to help them in their careers. The app is downloadable, free from Google and Apple play stores. Technology, she said, can help to level the playing field and give equal opportunities to people living with disabilities.
Nalini’s personal life and work proves that people from all walks of life and disciplines can make a difference in the cause to see “Inclusion in Action” happen for people living with disabilities. Her lengthy career in tourism made a national impact. At the Ministry of Tourism, she ended her career as senior director of Global Communications. People from every profession and career can find meaningful work, and even a life purpose, in helping to advance the cause of people living with disabilities. Normalising their inclusion and empowerment would make a world of difference, ensuring that current struggles for people living with disabilities are transmuted into an inclusive society for all.