Installation of the Executive of The Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association

Her Excellency Reema Carmona Address At
the Installation of the Executive of
The Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association
At The Office of the President, Circular Road, St Ann’s  – June 7, 2017

I wish to congratulate the newly installed Executive of the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association (TTBWA). The Executive is afforded the opportunity to provide advocacy and genuine selfless service to the visually impaired in Trinidad and Tobago.  The obvious agenda of the Executive of the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association (TTBWA) is to advocate and support sustainable autonomy and self-determination among the visually impaired. Nothing will be given to you on a platter in a society that sometimes is indifferent and insensitive to the needs of marginalised groups like the visually impaired. You must therefore be dynamos of change, supporting each other through thick and thin.

Remember, a better and more informed public on the daily challenges of the visually impaired will go a long way in triggering a more compassionate, understanding and friendly society. Our society needs to ensure and sustain the personal independence of each and every visually impaired person. The right to appropriate access to public buildings, the right to live independently and the right to genuine opportunity are social fundamentals that must not be ignored and must not be taken for granted. Many able bodied persons in our society, do not recognise that these are basic human rights issues that must never be the subject of compromise.

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour summed it up critically when she stated (and I quote), “The celebration of diversity and the empowerment of the individual are essential human rights messages. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) embodies and clearly conveys these messages by envisaging a fully active role in society for persons with disabilities.”

On the 1st May 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port of Spain, I addressed the United Nations Regional Workshop on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). I reminded the delegates, that notwithstanding the existence of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (ICCPR), persons with disabilities are not enjoying the same rights as other able bodied persons despite the directory and mandatory provisions of the ICCPR. In fact, in some instances, those inalienable human rights are being violated. Such rights have been in existence for a long time. Article One of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated and I quote, “All human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

There are many examples of marginalisation suffered by the visually impaired in this Republic. Guide Dogs for the blind are blocked. Blind persons with superior hearing are shouted at. There are no bells at most of the traffic lights. I was at pains to indicate, at that International Workshop that as a society, aspiring to Developed Nation Status that we are simply not doing enough. We have not created the necessary environment in the area of employment, social mobility and providing the mechanism and support systems for those visually impaired, to realise their aspirations and ambitions. We often observe that at many public and private functions, what is accepted internationally and what is regarded as the just due of the differently abled are neither recognised nor practiced by many of our citizens.

As you may recall, only in December last year at the Blind Welfare’s Christmas Dinner, I spoke of the need to include the visually impaired and the differently abled community in the national dialogue of this Republic. I stated, Inclusivity, can take many forms and manifestations, and it appears that one area where the differently abled including the blind suffer from, is its lack of 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 national issues. The differently abled can disseminate new ideas and display clarity of vision that those who have eyes are not seeing and those who have ears are not hearing.

In this regard, I wish to commend the efforts of Mr Bhawani Persad, a visually impaired man with endless vision and consummate passion for his attempts at correcting this. His internet radio programme on and monthly programme titled “Persons Associated With Visual Impairment” (PAWVI) on Talk City 91.1, give a transformational voice to a demographic in our society that is often suppressed and oppressed and suffers from the cruelty of a sometimes insensitive and inconsiderate public.

As Patron to this noble organization, I want this Executive to get involved and demand participatory and representative presence in national delegations going to international fora relating to social issues impacting on our demographic. This would have been my hope for the differently abled, to have meaningful participation and representative presence in the Tenth Session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which will be taking place, next week, at the UN Headquarters in New York during the 13th- 15th June 2017. Its noteworthy theme is “The Second Decade of the CRPD: Inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the implementation of the Convention” and I repeat what is expected “Inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the implementation of the Convention”

I therefore hope your organization will be fully and effectively represented at that Conference if we mean business and hold dear the very agenda of the Conference. You see ladies and gentlemen, this Conference speaks to a type of institutional lethargy and tacitly suggests, that 10 years after the adoption of this Convention, persons with disabilities are still not sufficiently placed at the centre of policies and programmes geared towards the enjoyment of basic human rights, as delineated in the Convention.

I therefore feel compelled to repeat myself by reaffirming my belief in the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that no one should be left behind. As your Patron, your cry is constant and painful and I am listening and I am hearing. We want opportunity, not charity, the opportunity of jobs, yes real jobs that do not patronize our competencies, qualifications and capacities: yes, opportunity 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 sectors.

I wish to suggest that an active and working symbol, of the commitment of Corporate Trinidad and Tobago can be to ensure that corporate entities hire as part of their staff, persons with visual impairment and disabilities.

This is why at that very United Nations Regional Workshop on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), I felt the need to make a desperate call to our CARICOM leaders to declare a Caribbean Decade for Disabled Persons 2018 – 2028, following the UN Decade for Disabled Persons 1983 – 1992 and the African Decade for Disabled Persons 1999-2009.
It will give a sense of institutional and generational presence to the demographic of the differently abled community, encouraging behavioural changes in the private and public sectors of our society. It will further trigger implementable policies and initiatives that actualize the very heart and spirit of our National Anthem that everyone in this society, and I emphasize without distinction must have an equal place.

I thank you.