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Work Begins on Disabled Policy

“Ensuring Persons with Disabilities live with dignity, are respected and participate fully in society” is the vision of stakeholders involved with developing a national policy for persons with disabilities.

Civil society, public and private stakeholders are presently meeting to develop a National policy that will provide guidance on addressing challenges facing persons with disabilities. Stakeholders expect a draft policy to be presented for public consultation by the end of summer, and a final version sent to Cabinet before year end.

Four persons with disabilities are members of the policy group, along with representatives from the special needs community and other public officials. Finita Ebanks says that as someone living with a disability it is of great interest to her to be a part of the country’s efforts to meet the needs of the disabled community.

Keith Parker Tibbetts JR adds that he too felt it was important to contribute to an area that is in need of strong community support. He stresses the wide range of disabilities experienced by persons in the local community, but at the same time emphasises that people with disabilities are people first. “I am a normal person who happens to be missing a leg, and that is how I should be treated,” he states.

Sixteen year old student Branden Rivers and former Global Messenger for Special Olympics, Leonardo Bodden, agree that as young Caymanians with disabilities, they feel it is important to “do their part” for the disabled community. Mr Bodden comments that his participation has also given him confidence in the policy development process.

A Special Olympics representative on the committee, Antoinette Johnson, says the participatory approach that the process has taken so far towards persons with disabilities is in keeping with her organisation’s philosophy.

“Special Olympics believe that with sports training and competition, athletes with disabilities lead fuller, more self-sufficient lives, and are able to achieve success on and off the field of competition. So we are very pleased to be part of the process of developing a policy for the Cayman Islands that will ensure that persons with disabilities can enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms and have full inclusion in our society,” Ms Johnson says.

The policy is being developed largely by impacted stakeholders, including representatives from Sunrise Adult Training Centre, Special Olympics, Lighthouse School, Sunrise Caring Association, Harmony Learning Centre, parent representatives and several persons with disabilities. Impacted stakeholder entities are supported by a legal representative, Ministries with responsibility for Education, Health, Community Affairs and the Cabinet Office.

The group already completed goals and strategies speaking to the needs of persons with disabilities for: a quality education, equal employment opportunities, the highest standards of healthcare, independence, as well as full inclusion in society. A final goal calls for routine collection, analysis and distribution of information on persons with disabilities to inform policy, legislation and services.

The Cabinet Office was assigned the task of coordinating the development of the policy toward ensuring a comprehensive approach by private, civil society and public stakeholders. Director of the Cabinet Office’s Policy Coordination Unit, Robert Lewis is leading the policy development process on the Steering Committee, assisted by Policy Subcommittee Chair, Shari Smith and Legal Subcommittee Chair, Myrtle Brandt.

Commenting on previous reports, Mr Lewis explains: “We are converting and updating previous reports into a national policy intended to provide guidance on full inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. We also hope that the document will be an example of policy development and implementation best practice going forward. To this end – among other matters - the policy will include targets, phasing plans, provisions for policy monitoring, evaluation, review and change.

The new policy will draw heavily on documents drafted locally since 2007, including reports by the ‘Planning the Future for Persons with Disabilities in the Cayman Islands Steering Committee.’

Respecting the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and ensuring equal rights for persons with disabilities is a national imperative. In this regard an important deliverable of the National Policy is a preparatory document for a Bill covering legislation for persons with disabilities.

A legal subcommittee has been tasked with covering this area, chaired by Myrtle Brandt. The membership includes Sonji Myles (Deputy Chair), Vaughan Carter, K. Parker Tibbetts Jr., Kimberly Voaden, Charles Brown, Tommy Ebanks, Kimberly Kirkconnell, and Sheila Alvarez.

The 2010 National Census found that the two top disabilities in the Cayman Islands are sight and lower limb disabilities. Further statistical information about persons with disabilities is available from the Census, which can be found online at www.eso.ky.

Anyone who would like to share their thoughts on this subject, are invited to contact Robert Lewis (244-3602) at the Cabinet Office or Shari Smith (949-3330) at Sunrise Adult Training Centre.

For further information contact: Suzette Ebanks