Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association 17th Annual Charity Dinner 2014 Address

Her Excellency Mrs Reema Carmona extends greetings at the 17th Annual Charity Dinner for The Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association at The Paria Suites Hotel on December 6,

I would like to say a special thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your celebration tonight.  In the lifecycle of most NGO’s, seventeen years may seem to be just the beginning.  In fact just last evening, His Excellency the President attended the Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner for the National Centre for persons with disabilities.  But as every differently-abled person and person who supports a differently-abled person knows, without the proper assistance, even the most miniscule tasks can be transformed into a monumental burden.  So as an organization fighting for the rights and equitable treatment for the visually impaired, seventeen years is a landmark achievement for your Charity Dinner and should be vociferously applauded.  I also want to specially thank those of us who would have supported this effort year after year after year.

Your President, Mrs Claudette Paponette and your Chief Executive Officer, Mr Kenneth Suratt, must be commended for their due diligence in ensuring that this annual fundraiser takes place.  I must confess, however, that in my heart I look forward to the day when the Blind Welfare Association would not have to struggle to raise funds to acquire the items so necessary to improve the standard of living for the visually impaired.  We must shift our thinking beyond simply outfitting visually impaired centres with items designed to keep persons occupied, or provide a meagre stipend as a poor excuse for an income.  In this era of equal opportunity, our goal must be the creation of a level playing field and the empowerment of ALL differently-abled persons.

All of our schools, our thoroughfares, our streets, and our offices, whether private or public must be equipped with the necessary implements to empower our differently-abled persons.  Technology has come so far that we are about to put astronauts on mars, yet text to speech software is not available on every computer.  There is still much to be done.  To think of the hardships you had to endure in order to get salaries is indeed heart breaking, but as usual you have displayed your resilience and your determination to get things done.  It is a pity that the same ethos is not shared by all members of our society, because there is no doubt we would have a more productive society.

In this era of Corporate Social Responsibility, there is much more that can be done in order to assist the differently able, not only the visually impaired. I would like to take the opportunity to say a special ‘thank you’ to those in corporate society who have gone above and beyond to respond to the call of those who are in need.  But remember it is not only about sponsoring ingredients for a meal or donating instruments to a visually impaired centre.  Ask yourselves and your executives, “Is our building differently-abled friendly?  Can someone who is visually-impaired easily conduct business at my office?  Are my customer service representatives and security guards trained to recognize that a visually-impaired person can hear perfectly well and does not need to be shouted at?”  We must expand our consciousness and our awareness ladies and gentlemen, especially if we are to attain the equal opportunity and empowerment that we say we strive toward.

Most importantly, we must teach our children.  I have spoken about bullying and healthy life-styles in many fora, and we must accept that our children will only become what we create.  If we teach aggression, intolerance and ignorance, our future generations will be rife with it.  But if we teach compassion and communication, there is no doubt that the difficulties faced by members of the Blind Welfare Association will eventually fade into nothingness and this charity dinner will become a novelty and not a necessity.