Address at the 19th Annual Charity Dinner for the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association

Her Excellency Reema Carmona Address At
the 19th Annual Charity Dinner For
The Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association
At Paria Suits Hotel, San Fernando

I am elated tonight to see so many of you wonderful people supporting this good and honourable cause.  Your presence is the ultimate act, symbol and guarantee of your commitment and support for a struggle that needs more advocates to change the psyche of this sometimes insensitive and indifferent public of ours.  As Patron of the Blind Welfare Association, I wish to compliment the Association for a well-planned, well executed and timely function that is a precursor to this season of Christmas and giving.   This singular event tonight is in part a celebration of the accomplishments and the ongoing advocacy of the Blind Welfare Association, fighting for disability justice and fairness in a society that appears not to care enough.

I therefore urge you as an Association to continue to fight the good fight in the trenches of ignorance, insensitivity and indifference in a society that often claims to be all inclusive and accepting, to continue to do what is right and what is required for those living in the world of the differently abled.  Our society needs to be proactive in actualizing our social and human philosophies and one such philosophy is that a society that takes care of its weak, will invariably become a strong society.  Inclusivity, can take many forms and manifestations and it appears that one area where the differently abled including the blind, suffer from is that lack of inclusive engagement in our dialogue on national and international issues, social, political and economic. It is indeed a rare occurrence on our morning shows on television and radio stations for a differently abled person to have a voice, place and certainly a perspective on such issues.  The differently abled can disseminate and proffer new ideas and display clarity of vision that those who have eyes are not seeing and those who have ears are not hearing.  The differently abled, whether he/she is blind, deaf, autistic or with cerebral palsy, is somebody who has an opinion and has a view and must not become victims of special days celebrating disability.  It is insensitive to have differently abled persons assume a persona of facelessness outside of these designated international days that commemorate disabilities.  If we are genuine in our search for genuine inclusivity of the differently abled in our society, we must not become “Occasion Persons”.

Holistically, I suggest the Press in Trinidad and Tobago could go beyond the opinions of the able bodied and seek out the opinions of the differently abled on all issues.  No one seeks their opinions on politics, health, economics, climate change, human and drug trafficking and social dysfunction.  I noticed that the differently abled was not even given a chance or opportunity to express an opinion on Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump, the President-elect during the US Presidential debates.

The differently abled person possesses skills and expertise that can assist our society in its progressive development.  There is however one constant cry of the disabled especially from those who cannot see and the cry is simply this, we want opportunity, not charity, the opportunity of jobs, yes real jobs that do not patronize one’s competence, qualifications and capacity, one that will facilitate the differently abled person becoming the CEO of any company or the member or Chairman of a Board in the public and private sector.  Further, the blind person wishes to have unfettered access, to cross the road by himself/ herself, by having appropriate zebra crossings and bells at all traffic lights.  With such assistance, the blind person can cross the road by himself/ herself and when this happens, that simple experience triggers a sense of personal autonomy and independence which will go a long way.  The message is a clear one for those who are not differently abled.  By your actions and words, you must not embarrass but empower.

The visually impaired has a right to walk through not some doors but all doors.  The differently abled has a right to aspire and to work in an environment that can create careers and occupational and job mobility.  It is all about being given genuine opportunities, not pity, sympathy or charity.

Just last week (14th November, 2016), the World observed World Diabetes Day.  I genuinely wonder whether the differently abled community form part of or factor in our national diabetic statistics.  In the national discussions and awareness celebrations that week, there was a deafening silence, on the toll that diabetes wreck on the demographic of the differently abled community.  With little to no physical mobility in some cases, differently abled persons are more prone to diabetes and are unable to exercise or access an Occupational Therapist because it is simply unaffordable.  Additionally, user-friendly spaces for the differently abled are few and far between and unavailable and the conventional machines and conventional methods of the able bodied cannot be used or utilized effectively by the differently abled.

The differently abled are perhaps the most vulnerable to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and they face the ravages of those lifestyle diseases like diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), stroke and obesity.  We require greater vigilance by those in authority and those engaged in the business of the visually impaired. Proactively, I therefore implore all fitness junkies and fitness coaches to come on board and become supporters and advocates for healthier lifestyles among the differently- abled community.  They can voluntarily give off their time suggesting healthier diets and a relevant and practical exercise routine that invariably will lead to healthier and happier persons in our differently abled community.

Every effort that is given by the members of the Blind Welfare Association (BWA) can have the desired ripple effect.  Big waves are set in motion from small ripples, and as champions of the differently abled within society, never lose sight of the impact your actions are having on others in society.  What we all do now and I repeat NOW, can change the world.  As an Association, your unending advocacy and unrelenting activism, have provided many with unbelievable courage to face each new day.  For some one hundred years, you have kept the faith and I want you all to know, that every single one of us, whether we are differently abled, or we have a family member that may be differently abled, are all privileged to live in a world that is touched by your strength and resolution to make a difference.

I have personally seen and experienced the impact of blindness on a person’s sense of independence and autonomy.  My 90 year old father-in-law is visually impaired having suffered blindness for the last 30 years as a result of glaucoma.  I have felt and sensed my husband, His Excellency’s sense of helplessness and exasperation that his father, Dennis Carmona, a voracious reader, can read no more.

In this regard, I feel Corporate Trinidad and Tobago by way of Corporate Social Responsibility and through its Employment Public Assistant Programs (EPAs) should put in place, if not in place, a regime where all employees are tested every six months for diabetes and glaucoma, two things responsible for visual impairment and degeneration among our middle aged and elderly demographics.

The visually impaired, and by extension the differently abled, should by no means be limited in resources and training simply because they are differently abled.  As a society, we must ensure that the differently abled, are equipped adequately with all the tools, knowledge and technology required for success.  Our society must be one based on a proactive philosophy of genuine inclusivity, meritocracy and opportunity for everyone without exception.

Technology and education create an environment where visual impairment does not prevent persons from excelling, thriving and rivalling those who have their sense of sight.  The biggest obstacle isn’t visual impairment but rather a world that cannot see beyond it. The word disabled does not mean unable.  As a society, on the road to first world development, real genuine inclusivity should be an important feature of our daily lives.  It is therefore critical, that the visually impaired, and by extension the differently abled persons are made comfortable in the workplace and are able to easily communicate with their counterparts.  Staring, whispering and even pointing, should not be the social behaviour which able bodied persons engage in, but rather differently abled should be embraced and assisted by all at every opportunity to ensure a quality standard of life that is equal to all.

So as we celebrate the accomplishments of the Blind Welfare Association tonight, let us keep to the fore front of our minds, the importance of reaching out to those differently abled in society who need us the most.  No matter how small it may seem, know that your genuine efforts and sacrifice do not go unnoticed.  As a society, we are deeply touched by all that you do and we hope for continued positive change as time progresses.  With that relentless hope and vision, the Blind Welfare Association must soldier on.

I thank you!