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An Inclusive, Equitable and Prosperous Caribbean: The Case of Persons with Disabilities/Des Caraibes Inclusives, Equitables et Prosperes: Le Cas des Personnes Handicapees/Un Caribe Inclsivo, Equitativo y Prospero: el Caso de las Personas Con Discapacidad.

"Nothing about us, without us" is the global mantra for persons with disabilities. The statement articulates the view that no development, whether it is through policies, legislation or programmes relating to persons with disabilities, should take place without the inclusion of persons with disabilities. It reinforces the point that persons with disabilities have the ability and intellect to contribute to their own development and that capacity must be respected by all.

This global mantra has been embraced by the community of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean and is enunciated by different groups representing the members of this vulnerable community. Most of the institutions catering to the needs of persons with disabilities in the region are either managed or controlled by persons with disabilities. Certainly, since the United Nations declaration of 1981 as the Year for the Disabled, persons within the region have consistently made the claim for them to have control over their own affairs and destiny (United Nations 1981). But how seriously is this expression taken by policymakers and those who are in authority in the Caribbean? Are policymakers making efforts to transform the lives of persons with disabilities? Is progress being made to build a genuinely inclusive society for persons with disabilities in the region?

In order to answer these questions, I sought to analyze efforts by three English-speaking Caribbean countries to cater to the needs of persons with disabilities. In doing this, I examined where each country is in terms of implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and at the same time, assessed the efforts of policymakers to include programmes for persons with disabilities as a means of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For the SDGs to be effectively implemented, that is, inclusive of persons with disabilities, the eight guiding principles of the CRPD must be utilized. In this context, three member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados that have signed and ratified the CRPD and the SDGs are assessed. These are the largest English-speaking islands in the Caribbean and have a cumulative population of over 4.5 million individuals. Approximately 80 percent of the population of persons with disabilities in the English-speaking Caribbean reside within these three countries.

Conceptual framework

This paper is set within the conceptual framework of empowerment. Indeed, for the Caribbean to become an inclusive and prosperous place for persons with disabilities, these individuals must be empowered. In fact, the United Nations in a publication entitled: "Disability Indicators," in August 2015, declared: "People who are vulnerable, must be empowered" (United Nations 2015). Sustainable empowerment for these vulnerable individuals can only be achieved through the creation of programmes and policies to facilitate their development. Empowerment in the context of this paper is the "permanent increase in the capacities of relatively poor or marginalized individuals, households or communities to shape their own lives, and bring about social change" (Castree et al 2013).

Ever since the 1970s, persons with disabilities across the world have been advocating for their inclusion and involvement in society. This advocacy for empowerment gathered momentum in the 1980s when the United Nations declared 1981 as the Year of the Disabled. By the 1990s, the Standard Rules were developed to guide how societies treat and relate to persons with disabilities. Admittedly, the efforts of persons with disabilities to change how they are perceived and treated by members of society has played a fundamental role in this empowerment trajectory. Early models of disability focused on moral and medical issues and gave the impression that something was wrong with the person with the disability. The intense advocacy among persons with disabilities was a major game changer in this approach and resulted in the formulation of the social model of disability.

The social model places the person at the forefront, instead of emphasising the disability. It emphasises dignity, independence, choice, and privacy. Persons with disabilities are seen as individuals with equal rights first and not viewed in light of their disability--they too are willing to contribute to society like any other individual (Anderson 2014, 15).

Who are persons with disabilities?

Various definitions have been proffered for persons with disabilities. For different countries, the meaning will vary. However, for the purpose of this article, the standard reference in the CRPD is germane. The CRPD states that persons with disabilities include those individuals with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others (CRPD 2006). This definition embraces the social model that places emphasis on the individual and advocates for empowerment. The World Health Organization and World Bank report in 2011 estimates that between 15 to 17 percent of the world population constitutes persons with disabilities (WHO/World Bank 2011). Based on this estimate, there are approximately 750,000 persons with disabilities living in the English-speaking Caribbean which has a population of just over five million citizens.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In 2001, progressive countries such as Mexico led the charge for an international treaty to govern how persons with disabilities are treated. This came in the form of a resolution by the United Nations, calling upon member countries to develop a convention to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The resolution was unanimously adopted and for five years, State Parties worked together to develop this new convention. The CRPD was ready for signature in 2007 and Jamaica was the first country in the world to sign and ratify this convention. Jamaica's early signature came within the context of five years of active and consistent participation in the negotiations on the CRPD and regular updates were made to the Government of Jamaica and the population of persons with disabilities on what was taking place with the negotiations. Permission was therefore given by the Cabinet to sign and ratify the convention since it had no problems with the provisions within the CRPD. Subsequently, other Caribbean countries, including Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, have signed and ratified the CPRD. These countries are now obligated to honour the provisions of this convention that is designed to promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD 2006).

There are eight core principles that underpin this treaty and Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are duty bound to honour these guiding principles. The principles are:

a. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons;

b. Non-discrimination;

c. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;

d. Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;

e. Equality of opportunity;

f. Accessibility;

g. Equality between men and women;

h. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities (CRPD 2006, 3).

All these principles are axiological to the transformation and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

The Sustainable Development Coals

In 2015, the United Nations agreed to 17 sustainable development goals, with the aim of creating an inclusive world for all. Whilst there is no specific goal relating to persons with disabilities, they have been crafted in such a way that they include all groups within the global society (UN 2015). In the context of this article, the primary focus will be on goals four, eight and eleven. These are:

* Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all;

* Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all and

* Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

These goals constitute some of the indispensable development needs of persons with disabilities (Gayle-Geddes 2015). Indeed, for the lives of persons with disabilities to be meaningfully empowered in the Caribbean, focus must be placed on education, employment and access to public infrastructure. This is what these three goals are about and they will be used as the means of assessing where we are in the English-speaking Caribbean and will be juxtaposed against the eight guiding principles of the CRPD.

Education and persons with disabilities in the Caribbean

Education is undoubtedly an intrinsic means of transforming the lives of any vulnerable group (World Bank 2016). It is that tool that provides individuals with the skill sets to participate in a meaningful way in the development of their society. It is the great social equalizer and enabler. It is therefore understandable why it is cited in the SDGs as a fundamental priority for governments across the world. Similarly it is included in the CRPD as a major responsibility for State Parties. The CRPD in Article 24 states:

1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to:

a. The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and human diversity;

b. The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents, and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;

c. Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.

2. In realizing this right, States Parties shall ensure that:

a. Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;

b. Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;

c. Reasonable accommodation of the individual's requirements is provided;

d. Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;

e. Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.

3. States Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community. To this end, States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including:

a. Facilitating the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication and orientation and mobility skills, and facilitating peer support and mentoring;

b. Facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community;

c. Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deaf blind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.

4. In order to help ensure the realization of this right, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to employ teachers, including teachers with disabilities, who are qualified in sign language and/or Braille, and to train professionals and staff who work at all levels of education. Such training shall incorporate disability awareness and the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities.

5. States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. To this end, States Parties shall ensure that reasonable accom-modation is provided to persons with disabilities" (CRPD 2006, 13).

SDG 4 details seven targets which are expected outcomes and three targets which are means of achieving these targets. In the context of the SDGs, the following are the targets and indicators for education for persons with disabilities:
4.5 Gender equality and inclusion--

By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal
access to all levels of education and vocational training for the
vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and
children in vulnerable situations.

4.a Effective learning environments--

Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and
gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective
learning environments for all

Indicators

--disaggregate indicators for this target, as well as for other targets
under SDG 4, for persons with/without disabilities (e.g. Primary school
net attendance ratio for children with disabilities; Secondary school
net attendance ratio for children with disabilities)
--Percentage of teachers in service who have received in-service
training in the last 12 months to teach students with special
educational needs (United Nations 2015, 2).


The fundamental question to answer here is what has happened in the Caribbean over the years to achieve the ideals of the CRPD and SDGs in the context of persons with disabilities. Countries within the English-speaking Caribbean emerged out of a similar political construct (Munroe 2002). They were all under British colonial rule and based on this hegemonic design, they have preserved and maintained a similar education system (Miller & Munroe 2014). This education system was designed at a time when persons with disabilities were seen as individuals who could not offer much to society. They were thus seen as individuals who were dependent on governments to provide for them (Gayle-Geddes 2015). It was an environment that legitimized and reinforced the welfarist perspective of disability. Consequently, educational institutions were not designed to include persons with disabilities. In fact, a segregated system of education was promoted (Anderson 2014). It was not until the post-colonial era, that is, after 1962, that persons with disabilities were being accepted in the regular educational institutions within the English-speaking Caribbean.

There have been three approaches to the education of persons with disabilities in the English-speaking Caribbean. These are:

* Special schools;

* Integrated schools and

* Inclusive schools.

Special schools offer education and training exclusively to persons with disabilities. For an individual to attend these institutions, he/she must have a disability. Integrated schools are regular schools where special classrooms are assigned to teach persons with disabilities. Students with a disability are not allowed to participate in classes with regular students, although they are attending the same educational institution. Inclusive education is where persons with disabilities are taught in the same classes alongside other students without a disability (UNESCO 2009). All of the different approaches are present in the three countries under review.

Conspicuously, all of the educational institutions from the colonial era had no access features for persons with disabilities save and except for those that were exclusively built for persons with disabilities. Therefore, schools at the pre-primary primary, secondary and tertiary levels had no facilities to accommodate persons with disabilities (Morris 2011; Gayle-Geddes 2015). It was not until the 1960s regular educational institutions within the English-speaking Caribbean started to include persons with disabilities.

In Jamaica, this process was started in the 1960s and has continued today (Anderson 2014). Persons with disabilities are being included at all levels of the education system, although not at the pace that is required. The same experience is seen in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. In Barbados for example, students with disabilities have the option of attending one of eight primary schools and any of the high schools in the island. At the tertiary level, the Cave Hill campus of the UWI has been accepting a plethora of students with disabilities (Ifill 2017). In Trinidad and Tobago, persons with disabilities have been included in the general education system and they have moved up to the tertiary level. Like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago has seen students with disabilities moving up to the doctoral programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The process of inclusion is however impeded by lack of resources from government to make the educational institutions responsive to the needs of persons with disabilities. Resources are needed in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that schools become physically accessible to persons with disabilities, provide trained teachers who are able to relate to these individuals and to provide modern technologies to assist these individuals (ECLAC 2017).

Since the 2000s, these three countries have been instituting a more inclusive policy and legislative framework for persons with disabilities to enhance their educational experience. In 2000 the Parliament of Jamaica adopted a national policy for persons with disabilities (MLSS 2000), and in 2014 the Disabilities Act was approved by the Houses of Parliament (MLSS 2014). Both of these made special provision for education for these individuals. The responsibility for implementation of the national policy and the legislation falls under the aegis of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD).

In Barbados there is the Barbados White Paper on Disabilities and this policy document, among other things, is a guide for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in educational institutions. The country is currently preparing legislation to protect the rights and dignity of members of this vulnerable community (Barbados Advocate 2017). The Barbados Council for Persons with Disabilities has oversight responsibilities for implementing these programmes and policies.

In Trinidad and Tobago, there is a special policy for persons with disabilities and this covers the education of these individuals (Government of Trinidad and Tobago 2005). There is the Equal Opportunities Act that gives some protection to persons with disabilities where their education is concerned. The Disabilities Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister in Trinidad and Tobago has carriage for these initiatives.

Efforts to have an inclusive education for persons with disabilities in these English-speaking countries are however lethargic. For example, the Disabilities Act in Jamaica was approved in 2014 protecting persons with disabilities against discrimination in areas such as education (MLSS 2014). However, up to the end of 2018, four years after the passage of the law in the Parliament of Jamaica, the legislation has not been implemented (Jamaica Gleaner 2018).

These efforts have to be treated with a greater degree of urgency among policymakers if the provisions of the CRPD and the SDGs are to be realized. Governments within the region must adopt a more strategic and systematic approach towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the education system (CARICOM 2013; MLSS 2004). If persons with disabilities are to undergo real empowerment and transformation, education must play a lead role (Morris & Henderson 2016; Joseph 2007). However, the physical plants that house these educational institutions must be transformed to allow persons with disabilities to access them. More teachers must be trained to relate to persons with disabilities. Modern technologies must be made accessible to students with disabilities. Negative attitudes towards persons with disabilities must be eradicated (ECLAC 2017). These must take place if the principles of participation, inclusion and non-discrimination so lucidly articulated in the CRPD and the SDGs are to be fully realized (CRPD 2006; SDG 2015). Achieving the SDGs by 2030 is not an ideal solely for the non-disabled, it must include persons with disabilities. Governments, members of the private sector and civil society must intensify their efforts to empower persons with disabilities in order to realize these goals.

Inclusive and sustainable employment for persons with disabilities

The employment landscape is also in an unimpressive state for persons with disabilities (ECLAC 2017). The majority of persons with disabilities in the three countries mentioned in this paper are unemployed (World Bank 2016). In Jamaica, a socio-economic study conducted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security revealed that over 90 percent of respondents were unemployed (MLSS 2015). Information from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago is pointing in a similar direction (ECLAC 2017).

The high levels of unemployment among this population contribute to the significant poverty and inequality that confronts them on a daily basis (WHO 2011). When persons with disabilities are poor, they are unable to acquire the basic necessities that will allow them to function daily and this further hinders their ability to participate in meaningful employment (World Bank 2016).

The inaccessible educational environment is also a contributory factor to the high levels of unemployment among persons with disabilities (World Bank 2016). When persons with disabilities do not have the necessary educational qualification or skill, they are further restricted and isolated from the labour market (Ridell et al. 2010). The homogeneous nature of disability causes the situation of low employment among this population to be mirrored across the English-speaking Caribbean. According to the 2017 ECLAC report, between 2000 and 2010, persons with disabilities were only around half or just over half, as likely as those without disability to be working (ECLAC 2017). The report further highlighted that across the board, persons with disabilities are less economically active than non-disabled individuals. The report stated: "In most countries, the differential in the rate of economic activity is between 20 percent and 40 percent" (ECLAC 2017: 54). Specifically, the report is pointing to high differentials in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago with figures between 30 and 40 percent.

Some minor attempts have been made in these countries to include persons with disabilities in economic activities. In Jamaica for example, the Economic Empowerment Grant (EEG) has been established since 2009 to provide cash grants of up to JA$150,000 for persons with disabilities to engage in small business activities (JCPD 2018). In Trinidad and Tobago, there is an initiative for persons with disabilities to be paid a monthly stipend of TT$1,800.00 (GOTT 2018). There is no specific funding mechanism for small business development although persons with disabilities can access funding from other established small business development mechanisms. In Barbados, there is the Harambee Enterprise Scheme (HES) that has been established by the Barbados Council for the Disabled, to assist persons with disabilities to realize their employment dreams. In this initiative, persons with disabilities are supported through training or given cash grants to start small business (BCD 2017).

Notwithstanding these efforts, the region is failing in its quest to realize the ideals of the CRPD and the SDGs where employment of persons with disabilities is concerned. This is evidenced by the high levels of unemployment among the population of persons with disabilities in the region (ECLAC 2017). Article 27 of the CRPD states:

1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation, to, inter alia:

a. Prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all matters concerning all forms of employment, including conditions of recruitment, hiring and employment, continuance of employment, career advancement, and safe and healthy working conditions;

b. Protect the rights of persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to just and favourable conditions of work, including equal opportunities and equal remuneration for work of equal value, safe and healthy working conditions, including protection from harassment, and the redress of grievances;

c. Ensure that persons with disabilities are able to exercise their labour and trade union rights on an equal basis with others;

d. Enable persons with disabilities to have effective access to general technical and vocational guidance programmes, placement services and vocational and continuing training;

e. Promote employment opportunities and career advancement for persons with disabilities in the labour market, as well as assistance in finding, obtaining, maintaining and returning to employment;

f. Promote opportunities for self-employment, entrepreneurship, the development of cooperatives and starting one's own business;

g. Employ persons with disabilities in the public sector;

h. Promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector through appropriate policies and measures, which may include affirmative action programmes, incentives, and other measures;

i. Ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities in the workplace;

j. Promote the acquisition by persons with disabilities of work experience in the open labour market;

k. Promote vocational and professional rehabilitation, job retention and return-to-work programmes for persons with disabilities (CRPD 2006, 15).

In the context of the SDGs, the specific targets and indicators are:
8.5 by 2030 achieve full and productive employment and decent work for
all women and men, including for young people and persons with
disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value Indicator

--Unemployment rate, disaggregated for persons with/without
disabilities (United Nations 2015).


Countries in the English-speaking Caribbean have a very long way to go in the context of employment for persons with disabilities and the time for action is now. An aggressive action plan must be put in place to integrate more persons with disabilities in the labour market within the Caribbean if the provisions of the CRPD and SDGs are to be achieved.

Making cities and communities inclusive for persons with disabilities

For us to have an inclusive, accommodative, equitable and prosperous Caribbean for all, where persons with disabilities are empowered and function independently, communities, towns and cities have to be more inclusive and accessible to these individuals (UNDP 2016). This is a developmental necessity if persons with disabilities are to be fully integrated in mainstream society and become a part of the productive capacity of their country (Salman 2018). Article Nine of the CRPD states:

1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and com-munications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

a. Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities, and workplaces;

b. Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

2. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to:

a. Develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;

b. Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;

c. Provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities;

d. Provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understand forms;

e. Provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers, and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public;

f. Promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information;

g. Promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;

h. Promote the design, development, production, and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost (CRPD 2006, 6).

In the context of the SDGs, the specific targets and indicators relating to the inclusion and accessibility of persons with disabilities are:
4.a build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability
and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and
effective learning environments for all

Indicator

--Percentage of schools (primary, lower and upper secondary) with
adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities.

11.2 by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and
sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably
by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of
those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with
disabilities and older persons

Indicator

--Percentage of public transport vehicles meeting the minimum national
standards for accessibility by persons with disabilities

11.7 by 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and
accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and
children, older persons and persons with disabilities

Indicator

--Percentage of public buildings meeting the ISO 21542:2011 standards
on accessibility and usability of the built environment
--Percentage of public green spaces (parks and recreational facilities)
meeting the minimum national standards for accessibility by persons
with disabilities (United Nations 2015, 2-3).


Unfortunately, none of the three countries under review can boast of being fully inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. Admittedly, the colonial experience of these countries has left buildings and public facilities inaccessible to persons with disabilities. In the construction and design of communities, towns, and cities, no special effort was made to include persons with disabilities in the colonial era (Imada 2017; Bregain 2016). Since the 1970s however, we have seen a slight change in this. In Jamaica, for example, the National Housing Trust (NHT) has an established policy to make a minimum of 5 percent of its houses in each housing development accessible for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have been accessing these houses and are therefore being integrated in those communities (NHT 2016). Additionally, in the 2017 Budget Debate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced an initiative to provide assistance through the NHT for households that have individuals living with a disability (JIS 2017). This is to assist with the necessary modification that is needed for persons with disabilities.

The lack of a Building Code to establish set guidelines for the construction and design of facilities in communities, towns, and cities have exacerbated the problem of access to public facilities throughout the region for decades. However, we are finally seeing some movements to correct this longstanding problem. In Jamaica, the revised Building Act has been approved by the Parliament and brings into effect a new Building Code (Houses of Parliament 2018). This Building Code will make it mandatory for new buildings to be made accessible for persons with disabilities.

In countries such as Barbados, there was a problem with accessing facilities in communities, towns and cities for persons with disabilities. However, due to the increase in the population of physically disabled persons and an emphasis on disability tourism, governmental efforts are being made to improve access to public facilities. The Building Code in Barbados makes special provision for buildings to be constructed with the relevant access features to accommodate persons with disabilities (BCD 2018).

In Trinidad and Tobago, efforts are also being made to make public buildings accessible for persons with disabilities and this is being supported by their Building Code. The Disability Affairs Unit has published a booklet highlighting all the accessible public facilities in Trinidad and Tobago so that persons with disabilities can be aware of these facilities (GOTT 2018).

Ostensibly, we have seen where efforts are being made to improve public transportation for persons with disabilities. Transportation is a critical ingredient for the access and inclusion of persons with disabilities in their communities. Due to the nature of most of the disabilities affecting individuals, they have to depend on some form of transport to take them from one point to another. Furthermore, most persons with disabilities are poor (WHO/World Bank 2011; ECLAC 2017) and are therefore unable to purchase their own transportation. In the major cities in the three countries identified in this paper, special buses have been included in the public transportation system for persons with disabilities. In Jamaica, six buses with accessible features for persons with disabilities are assigned to the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) (Jamaica Observer 2011). In Trinidad and Tobago there is the Elderly and Differently-Abled Mobile (ELDAMO) which is a free, by request, public transportation mechanism that is designed to assist the elderly, inclusive of elderly persons with disabilities (Jones 2016). In Barbados, there are five accessible buses in their public transportation system. In addition, the Barbados Council for the Disabled provides an accessible bus to persons with disabilities upon request (BCD 2018). In all three countries, persons with disabilities receive either concessionary bus fares or free public transportation. However, persons with disabilities living in rural communities do not have access to these facilities and herein lies a major dilemma for persons with physical disabilities.

ICTs and the disabled

One of the major tools for including persons with disabilities in communities in the modern era is that of information communication technologies (ICTs) (G3ICT 2018). ICTs have been significantly advanced in such a way that it makes communication between the non-disabled and persons with disabilities more efficacious than it was during the 1990s (Lafayette 2018). Computers and smart phones are being designed with what is regarded as 'universal design' which means that all individuals can use them (CRPD 2006). This has enabled persons with disabilities to access information from sources as the Internet in an independent manner.

In the Caribbean, we are now catching up with the digital revolution that is taking place for persons with disabilities (Lafayette 2018). According to ECLAC, persons with disabilities are significantly behind their non-disabled counterparts when it comes to access to the Internet and access to computers and smart phones in the Caribbean (ECLAC 2017, 33). The report from ECLAC further shows that in terms of access to the Internet and other modern technologies for persons with disabilities, Barbados is ahead of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (ECLAC 2017, 36).

Data from the Disability Accessible Rights Evaluation (DARE) Index 2018 however highlights the following ratings:

Jamaica

DARE Index Score: 61/100

Global Ranking: 19

Regional Ranking: 2

Peer Economic Development Group Ranking: 5

Implementation Ranking: 19 (G3ICT 2018).

Barbados

DARE Index Score: 20/100

Global Ranking: 91

Regional Ranking: 15

Peer Economic Development Group Ranking: 28

Implementation Ranking: 85 (G3ICT 2018).

Trinidad and Tobago

DARE Index Score: 15/100

Global Ranking: 97

Regional Ranking: 17

Peer Economic Development Group Ranking: 29

Implementation Ranking: 85 (G3ICT 2018).

The DARE Index was created by the Global Initiative for Inclusive Technologies (G3ICT), an advocacy organization launched in cooperation with UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in 2006, to provide a global benchmark for governments, advocates and private sector organizations to assess their progress and identify opportunities in promoting and implementing digital accessibility. The DARE Index measures three categories of variables in each country:

1. Country commitments (legal, regulatory, policies and programmes)

2. Country capacity to implement (organization, processes and resources)

3. Actual digital accessibility outcomes for persons with disabilities in ten areas of products and services (G3ICT 2018).

The differences in usage of the Internet and modern technologies between the ECLAC Report and that of the DARE Index can be attributed to the time when the assessment was conducted. The ECLAC data was garnered from 2011 population and housing censuses whilst the DARE Index used 2018 data gathered from grassroot disability organisations, namely Disabled People's International (DPI). What is clear however is that persons with disabilities in the region are not at the same level of access as the non-disabled.

But the levels of access to the Internet and modern technologies for persons with disabilities in these countries is a function of cost. Modern technologies for persons with disabilities are extremely expensive and they have to depend on government and family members to provide support in gaining access to these facilities and equipment (Lafayette 2018).

In Jamaica, through funding from the Universal Service Fund (USF), persons with disabilities have been able to get funding to secure modern equipment. Specifically, through the UWI Centre for Disability Studies (UWICDS) grant funding has been secured to provide persons with disabilities who are studying at the tertiary level and those who are gainfully employed with computers and assistive software (UWICDS 2017). In Trinidad and Tobago, through a group known as The Blind Way Forward, efforts are being made to disseminate information to persons with disabilities on the latest modern technologies that are available and how to access them. This is being done through a grant from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the information is being distributed on MP3s so that blind and visually impaired individuals can access the information (ECLAC 2017, 34). In Barbados, there is the Technology Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired which is an initiative funded by the National Disabilities Unit and designed to train blind and visually impaired persons in the use of ICTs (Barbados Advocate 2017).

If our communities, towns and cities are to be truly accessible to all, the issue of access to ICTs must be addressed for persons with disabilities (Christopherson 2016). In this digital era, businesses, public institutions and social services are all using digital platforms to disseminate information to their clients (ITU 2007). Persons with disabilities use these services as well and therefore efforts must be made to allow them to access the information being provided. This can only be done if we make the requisite equipment and software accessible to them.

Recommendations for action

If the CRPD and the SDGs are to be realized, urgent action must be taken to make the Caribbean an inclusive, equitable and prosperous place for persons with disabilities. In this context, the following are some recommendations that must be implemented in order for this noble mission to be accomplished and for persons with disabilities to be empowered:

1. For governments to make at least one primary and high school in each electoral constituency accessible for persons with disabilities.

2. For governments within the region to provide free tuition for persons with disabilities up to a first degree at the tertiary level.

3. For governments to provide grants to persons with disabilities to purchase assistive technologies to aid in their education and employment endeavours.

4. For governments to incentivize the private sector, through tax credits, for employing persons with disabilities.

5. A special pool of funds to be established by both the government and private sector to provide loans/grants for small business development for persons with disabilities.

6. For governments to provide tax exemptions for transport operators to purchase accessible motor vehicles for persons with disabilities.

7. For building codes to be established to ensure that public facilities are made accessible to persons with disabilities.

8. For multilateral and bilateral institutions to specifically indicate that persons with disabilities are to benefit from a percentage of loans/grants that they provide for governments within the region.

9. For special training and sensitization programmes to be put in place for public officers, especially those in education, justice, health, labour, public transportation, and housing, on issues relating to persons with disabilities.

10. To engage non-governmental organizations (NGOs) catering to persons with disabilities in modern management techniques and how to mobilize resources.

11. To create an independent national mechanism to monitor the implementation of the CRPD and the SDGs in the context of persons with disabilities.

12. To improve data collection mechanisms for persons with disabilities by ensuring that specific questions relating to persons with disabilities are included in national censuses and to create national registrations for this vulnerable group.

Conclusion

The world is proceeding towards 2030, the year set for the SDGs to be achieved. Countries across the globe are putting mechanisms in place to ensure that the targets set in the CRPD and SDGs are realized. In the Caribbean, there is the absence of a coordinated and strategic approach towards the accomplishment of the provisions of the CRPD and the SDGs for persons with disabilities. The cases accentuated in this paper in the context of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are clear indications that efforts must be made to accelerate the necessary reforms for the region to become an equitable, inclusive and prosperous place for persons with disabilities. Educational institutions need to become more inclusive and friendly for persons with disabilities to be truly empowered. Measures must be put in place to facilitate the employment and entrepreneurial skills of this vulnerable group. Communities, towns and cities must expedite efforts to integrate persons with disabilities in the society by making public amenities and transportation fully accessible to this group. Of course, all of this must be done with the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the planning and implementation process. After all, persons with disabilities live by the mantra "Nothing about us, without us." The time for action is now. The time for inclusion is now. Let us move with alacrity to create a genuine Caribbean society that is equitable, inclusive and prosperous for all.

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Date:Dec 1, 2018
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