National Centre for Persons with Disabilities 50th Anniversary Dinner 2014 Address

National Centre for Persons with Disabilities 50th Anniversary Dinner 2014

His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT.  SC.  President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago extends greeting a the 50th Anniversary Dinner of the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) at the Point-A-Pierre Staff Club on December 5.  2014.

2014 has been a year of wider revelation for me.  My interaction with the NCPD has opened my eyes to the needs of our society’s invisible people and I am indeed a better and wiser person.  Not a greater person but a better person.  It is indeed difficult to conceptualize that for fifty years there have been people fighting for the rights and opportunities of our differently abled citizens, yet we hardly seem any better off.  As I have asked on numerous occasions, where are our wheelchair access ramps to the Queen’s Park Savannah?  Where are our crossing lights with sound and our access at every traffic light?  I want to pause for a minute to focus on two important things I just mentioned.  Despite the name of the organization being celebrated tonight, we must realize that we are speaking about ‘differently-abled’ persons and not persons with disabilities.  I hope that one day this change in perception will spark a change in the nomenclature.  The real disability is refusing to recognize that everyone is indeed equal.  The second thing is that we are all indeed citizens and as citizens everyone should be afforded the opportunity to make a contribution to our society.  Being differently abled should not preclude us from being able to do our part.

As a whole, we as adults have failed our children and our society in most aspects of everyday living.  From our use and abuse of social media, to the way we treat each other and ourselves.  We are a society of selfish bullies and unfortunately the seeds we have sown will be reaped by our children and our children’s children.  There is hope however; I am heartened to know that the NCPD, in celebrating its Fifty Years’ Anniversary has had a part in restoring that hope.  On Tuesday 9th of December, I will be attending a Heroes Foundation Project Presentation that showcases the efforts of our Secondary School children to understand and combat discrimination towards our differently abled young people.  The programme is aptly titled “Heroes of the Differently Abled”.  The late Eric Williams once said that the future of our nation is in our children’s school bags, and if that is the case, when I look at these very tangible efforts of our young people, then we do indeed have a promising future, as they try to break the chains of the stigmas we have placed on them.  I want to encourage us all to continue to support our young people and their efforts as they endeavour to do more than we exemplified.  Truth be told we are a society of braggarts who revel in talking the talk but cower at the thought of walking the walk.

To our corporate partners, this was a year that I spoke often both here and abroad when I attended the Eminent Speaker Series at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus in Barbados, about Corporate Social Responsibility.  Your genuine support means much more than you may choose to really appreciate but note that I said GENUINE support. Let us not be naïve ladies and gentlemen.  We all know that there are those among us who look at Corporate Social Responsibility as an affair of reciprocity.  Gauging quietly and may I add unscrupulously to see what benefits can be gained by blatantly advertising your “support” for organizations like the NCPD hoping to drum up customers.  Amidst all this celebration and congratulations to those of you whose intentions are less than honourable I say “shame on you.”

But even though we must be aware of reality, let us not focus on the negative ladies and gentlemen.  The work of the NCPD over the past fifty years has represented fifty years of hard work and diligence in an attempt to raise the level of social consciousness.  I would like to personally thank those members of staff who have laboured tirelessly in the vineyard.  Our long service awardees tonight have a total of almost two hundred years’ service and to you I would like to say a very special thank you and congratulations, since it is because of you that the NCPD has been able to not only survive but flourish and it is under your stewardship that your organization will go from the proverbial strength to strength.  It is your work ethic that fuels this organization on its mission.  It is not by happenstance that I chose to appoint your CEO to the Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission.  It was a deliberate action on my part to put persons in position who have a proven track record of hard work and success.  So while the NCPD does its part to give you an award, I would like to do my part as well.  To the individuals and organizations who make up this host of angels without wings I say “THANK YOU” and may God continue to bless you and your endeavours.