“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
Concerned by the marginalisation of people with disabilities, President Anthony Carmona has vowed to lobby companies to adopt a policy mandating them to employ disabled people. Carmona, who committed himself to providing jobs to disabled students at President’s House during the August vacation, said he planned to hold discussions with the American Chamber of Commerce and other chambers, as well as the Rotary and Lions Clubs, to bring them on board.
He said he intended to enlist the help of wheelchair-bound senators attorney Ian Roach and vet Dr Kriyaan Singh to bring a sense of awareness to the Parliament. Following his first official tour of the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD), San Fernando, on Tuesday, Carmona made a call to the national community to exhibit greater sensitivity and appreciation for those with disabilities. Carmona’s father is visually impaired. He said he was impressed with the genuine love and warmth of the teachers for their charges.
He added: “Today is a special day for me to come down. As you know I was named after St Thomas Aquinas and today is the feast day of St Thomas Aquinas. “I went to church this morning and I prayed for everyone here, so it is a very special day coming down here. A day I will never forget.” Carmona referred to the Spanish energy company Repsol’s policy on hiring people with disabilities. Three per cent of Repsol’s staff comprise people with varying disabilities but who are competent in their particular discipline.
“It is a wonderful philosophy,” he told NCPD CEO, Dr Beverly Beckles, and chairman of the board Dr Natalie Dick, as he commended them for the work they were doing at the centre. After viewing the various vocations in which young people are enlisted, including woodwork, information technology, music, welding, shoemaking, catering services, hairdressing and cosmetology, the President said:
Disabled equally hard-working
“It is interesting that people who are disabled are more productive than able-bodied people. Isn’t that remarkable?” He pledged to Beckles: “I will join your army and in that regard, as patron, I will certainly be interacting with the Chamber of Commerce, with the American Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Lions Club to try to raise their sensitivity level, to accommodate the employment of persons with disabilities.”
Beckles appealed to the President also to lobby for the ratification of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities as legislation was urgently needed. Carmona noted that the visually impaired president of the Barbadian Senate, Kerryann Ifill, had also raised the issue of ratifying the convention.
“I know sometimes the problem is, we do not have enough subsidiary legislation or implementation of legislation and sometimes we try to put implementation of legislation in place before we sign off and ratify,” Carmona, a former judge, said. He added: “I think, in fact, it is a problem worldwide. People feel you need to have implementable legislation before you sign on.
“Even the convention recognises it is a progressive development and you can sign on with the proviso that I intend to put implementation legislation in place, so I am really happy to hear about that.” Beckles said Repsol had supported the awareness campaign, which is scheduled for review, with the aim of requesting support for another year.
She said the NCPD had noted significant benefits from employers to the extent that RBC, Fine Arts and other employers were asking for qualified and trained people from the centre. “We are doing the advocacy to sensitise the employer, the worker organisation, of the abilities of persons with disabilities,” Beckles said.