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Cayman Islands Government

Honour for Disabled Champion

Keith Tibbetts Jr. has been announced as the recipient of a Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour.

At the Queen’s Birthday Parade this Saturday (17 June 2017) Deputy Governor, Hon. Franz Manderson named the latest individuals to receive the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour.

These are businessman Mr. Keith Parker Tibbetts Jr, for services to persons with disabilities, and Mrs Frances Mary McConvey, for services to for services to education, the arts, culture and the community.

Keith Parker Tibbetts Jr, Cert. Hon.

Anyone who comes into contact with Mr. Keith Parker Tibbetts, Jr., who goes by the name Parker, can only marvel at his indomitable spirit, and zeal to serve the cause of disabled persons. It is quickly obvious that a commitment to helping others deeply underscores Mr Tibbetts’ character.

A prominent businessman from a well-known family, he has not allowed the vicissitudes of life to dictate how he will lead it. Soon to be 70, with physical disabilities, he nevertheless comes across as a dynamo; a remarkable man resolved to be positive and lead a full life, who just happens to be wheelchair-bound.

Now, for his sterling services to persons with disabilities in the Cayman Islands, the Government has chosen to confer on Mr. Tibbetts the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour (Cert. Hon.) in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Proud and humbled to have been chosen for this honour, Mr. Tibbetts takes the accolade in stride.

He served as a non-governmental member on all four committees that recently created a disabilities policy and legislation for the Cayman Islands. Mr. Tibbetts knew that they could not get everything they wanted in the law right off the bat but, as he says, “we had to start sometime and somewhere.”

While the Cayman Islands have made inroads into providing public amenities for the disabled such as handicapped parking and ramps on public streets, “we have still a long way to go,” Mr. Tibbetts emphasises.

For instance, he recommends that there should be a blue spot behind every handicapped spot in parking lots clearly identifying them and that the law needs to reflect this.

Also, an active disabled persons register is needed. “There are a lot of disabled people in the Cayman Islands but without an active register we don’t know how many there are.” A register is not an expensive action to take but will give invaluable insight into how many are living with disabilities as well as the varying degrees of disability so that, for instance, the Fire Department and other emergency services can be prepared for evacuations during national disasters like hurricanes, he explains.

He also knows that unless you are well off in the Cayman Islands, it can be very difficult for a person with disabilities to function well in public society. For instance, very little private housing is wheelchair compliant, let alone wheelchair accessible.

Even many public buildings do not have ramps or button operated doors, making it very difficult for a wheelchair bound person to enter or exit closed doors. And most have inaccessible bathrooms for the wheelchair bound. “It is virtually impossible to go in and out of bathrooms in a wheelchair here,” he says. Most older public buildings are not compliant but the newer ones are and Planning has made a lot of progress in this regard, he adds. So a lot of public buildings have elevators as well as ramps now.

Being a diabetic has made him more sensitive to situations that other diabetics might face negotiating everyday life as well as informs him in his activism. “I have been a diabetic person for so long that I can personally testify how susceptible a diabetic is to losing a limb, especially toes and feet,” Mr. Tibbetts comments.

He was initially diagnosed with Type II diabetes some 42 years ago, a fact that changed his life forever, as is the case for nearly every diabetic.

Initially, his doctors prescribed tablets to manage his diabetes but after a few years he needed injected insulin to be able to survive. Both his legs are now compromised and one is amputated below the knee. He gets about in a power-driven wheelchair and uses wheelchair compliant vehicles to transport himself. He could have ranted at fate but chose not to. “I decided I could do better for myself if I did not languish in self-pity and shrink away from humanity,” Mr. Tibbetts recalls.

This approach to life is what he has practised all his years and what he advises others to follow. “I know it is not easy and I would rather not have to inject medicines four times a day. But at this moment I have no other choice.”

And despite his disability, he is happy engaging in his most favourite pastime – dancing, an activity which no wheelchair has managed to curtail. “I have to stay active and I might as well do what I love doing,” he quips. In his wheelchair, he is a fixture on popular local dance floors many nights a week.

He believes there is an actual cure for diabetes possible in the future and hopes that he will get it in his lifetime.

Mr. Tibbetts is the son of the late Vestryman and MLA, Capt. Keith Tibbetts, who spent over five decades in public life in the Cayman Islands, notably Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. A sunk Russian destroyer, now a prime Cayman Brac dive site, is dedicated in honour of the late politician.

As President of Associated Industries Limited, Mr. Tibbetts instils his infectious vitality into his work every day. The AI Group of companies offers products that range from retail auto parts, paints and fences, as well as rentals, from lawnmowers and sound equipment to heavy earthmoving gear. A subsidiary company also plans and conducts events including wedding receptions.

A dedicated family man, Mr. Tibbetts enjoys spending time with his son, two daughters, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Two years after his wife of 25 years died in 1995 of a heart attack, he met his present companion, who had also lost her spouse. He is very proud of all his family and embraces them with the same enthusiasm and love that he brings to every aspect of his own life – and truly is a living lesson and inspiration for others, disabled and able-bodied.

For further information contact: Bina Mani