Basseterre, St. Kitts (SKNIS): St. Kitts and Nevis continues to move forward with plans and programmes to enhance the protection and empowerment of differently-abled citizens, residents, and visitors.
Officials from the Department of Social Development as well as the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, were among regional delegates who participated virtually at the Special Ministerial Conference for Specific Legislation for Persons with Disabilities in the Caribbean. The meeting was held on July 27 and 28.
As it stands, six countries within the 20 member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have established specific legislation to protect differently-abled persons. These are Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Guyana, The Republic of Haiti and Jamaica. Representatives from these countries were able to share their experiences and best practices during the meeting.
St. Kitts and Nevis’ Director of Policy Planning and Projects Unit within the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs, Azilla Clarke, expressed that this was a high point of the special two-day conference.
“It gave us access to networks to find out what countries have in place so that we can take a look at it and consider what is best to include in the formulation of a regional bill,” she stated. “We also learnt what are some of their challenges in terms of enforcement, compliance, and structures to conduct monitoring and evaluation.”
Shawn Seabrookes, who represented the Ministry of Sports, Youth and Culture, said that the participants agreed to the development of a special template for specific legislation to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The template gives a clear indication of the essential features to be included in the specific legislation.
The regional template is expected to help member states draft national legislation to be implemented. Mr. Seabrookes reported that outcomes included a five-year timeline for all countries within the region to develop specific legislation to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Countries with such legislation already have a three-year time frame to amend such laws to capture essential elements.
Ms. Clarke stated that the government is committed to improving the lives and opportunities for the vulnerable in society, and differently-abled individuals are high on the agenda.
Recent steps taken by the government in this regard include refurbishment/construction of sidewalks to allow wheelchair accessibility, having access ramps at new public facilities such as the East Basseterre Bus Terminal and Basseterre Ferry Terminal, installing a lift at Government Headquarters, and requesting business houses to have designated parking for the differently-abled.
The government also is providing a stipend for the next six months to households with differently-abled children as part of a stimulus measure to bring relief from the fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic.