Her Excellency Mrs Reema Carmona Address at The Tree Lighting Ceremony For World Autism Awareness Day Bahamas – 2015

Her Excellency Reema Carmona address at the Tree Lighting Ceremony for Autism Awareness Month at Rawson Square Bahamas on April 2, 2015.  The following is the entire content of Her Excellency’s address.

Today the whole world celebrates World Autism Awareness Day, and it is becoming a worldwide tradition to participate in ceremonies where tree and buildings are lit in blue to raise public awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders and the need for increased public services and opportunities to those who are affected.

There is no denying that there are many NGOs championing the cause of the differently abled, and they have been able to give some voice to the voiceless. However we cannot yet claim a victory of the scale that is required. In developing societies we are still surrounded by a malaise of hiding our differently able children through a form of misplaced shame. We need to recognize that the autistic child is no less a child than a child without autism. This special day is a proverbial yearly signal to arms to fight against an ignorance that does not eradicate the plight of those less fortunate. It is a signal that the fight must have at its core a quality of compassion, a fight to establish without any reservation, the beauty of the human spirit that lies within each of us. Ladies and gentlemen, we no longer can be apathetic or indifferent to those who need our special care and love.

The differently abled must be treated equitably, and this can only be accomplished by achieving and spreading a philosophy of humanity – that each of us matters, today and every day of the year. We must therefore not become “occasion persons”, merely celebrating autism awareness on this special day. Everyday must be a special day, and an important feature of that day must be uncompromising acceptance of the differently abled. It is not easy, and can never be easy to raise a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It will however be made easier if those around us are more sensitive, caring and supportive of parents and families of autistic children.

The differently abled person is not looking for handouts, not looking for alms, and is not engaged in a growing philosophy of dependency. They certainly do not want lip service. Opportunity equality and genuine inclusivity are what they require, and more so, what they rightfully demand. Social empowerment is what they need.

In this regard, I wish to make a clarion call to the corporate world to establish policy initiatives that a percentage of their working population comprise differently abled persons who are competent for the task allotted. The differently abled person is not an aberration, but a specially gifted person that can illuminate the lives of those they interact with, both at home and in the working environment. An example of that initiative, that corporate social responsibility in action, is the Spanish oil company Repsol, that at least 3 percent of its working staff must differently abled. I mentioned the term ‘genuine inclusivity’ and I draw inspiration from Canada and the Canadian approach can be fully implemented in all education systems. The Canadian system makes use of Adaptations to the school curriculum to enable children with learning disabilities to be included in the normal school environment. It provides peer tutors and transition periods for special needs students as they transition from school to the world of work. These practices instil confidence in our special needs students and teach their peers tolerance, something that is much needed in our society today. In other words, we need to put proper support systems in place to give our differently abled children the best chance of leading a normal life.

Remember ladies and gentlemen, that a society that takes care of its weak will invariably become a strong society. I do sincerely wish that these blue lights shine through your 700 islands bringing enlightenment to the homes and communities of everyone in this beautiful Commonwealth, so that the milk of human kindness runneth over. I am so inspired by this inaugural initiative. Keep up the good work, Commonwealth of The Bahamas.