Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Monday, August 18, 2003  

Getting ready for work this morning I caught a few minutes of the television programme T&T This Morning, and a telephone interview with George Daniel, president of the Trinidad and Tobago chapter of Disabled Peoples International.

For over a hundred days now, Daniel and other members of his organisation have been engaged in a continuous protest outside the National Flour Mills in Port-of-Spain, in order to bring attention to the plight of the differently-abled in this country.

There are little to no provisions for the disabled in T&T at present. As the DPI T&T protest has highlighted, the disabled have practically no access to education (and thus by extension, employment), health and recreational facilities, housing, public transportation (wheelchair-bound persons often wait hours at a time for a kindly taxi driver to stop and pick them up), no access to government ministries and public services, to the courts, to parliament.

DPI T&T is calling for no less than a complete revolution in the way the disabled are seen and considered. The government, in its usual myopia, has made noise about providing jobs, but Mr Daniel, who among other achievements has represented his country in wheelchair basketball, has seen this offer as nothing short of an insult. Responding some time ago to the call of the education minister (wife of the prime minister, let's not forget) for the disabled to send in their resumés to the government, Mr Daniel said: "There is no provision in the education system for differently-abled persons. We can’t go to school.... If we had an opportunity to go to school, we would have had doctorates."

Mr Daniel's role in this whole issue has been nothing short of heroic, as he has been suffering with various ailments and has been in and out of the hospital over the past few months. A few weeks ago, when he got word that the police, with typical boorishness, were threatening to break up the strike camp outside the flour mills, Mr Daniel discharged himself from the hospital and headed to the camp, determined not to let it happen.

Daniel's remarkable actions, and the fight by the disabled, did not begin overnight. For some forty years the disabled have been officially seeking to have their issues addressed, with no success; many have sought refugee status in other countries as a result.

Now it seems the disabled have decided enough is enough, and will not stop until government looks at the basic issues involved and makes fundamental changes in its policy--in fact, decides to actually adopt a policy--on the disabled.

As Lloyd Best never tires of saying, because of our history, we are a nation of innocents; our problem being fundamentally one of knowledge. And so our politicians will need to be educated as to what has to be done for the disabled, over and above the cosmetics of handing out a job here and a job there. This will also have to happen to the people as a whole; and in a nation where the majority continue to see themselves as oppressed and exploited, as second-class citizens, this is a tall order.

Yet if Mr Daniel's assertion this morning that DPI T&T is well on the way to collecting 100,000 signatures for a petition to present to the government is accurate, then we may just be on the way to effective change.

One other thing: I don't want to make a martyr of the man, but if one person surely deserves to be recognised at the national awards ceremony on Independence Day (August 31), that person is--not the president, who rumours say will collect the Trinity Cross, the nation's highest honour, but for what reasons I couldn't say--but George Daniel.

posted by Jonathan | 9:39 AM 0 comments


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