Published: 30 Nov 2010
Nations around the world will observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Friday. We will read the usual statements of commitment to the plight of the disabled but it is hard not to disdain the whole song and dance as nothing but hypocrisy.
Coincidence or not, this week the T&T Paralympic Committee will host an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Organisational Development Initiative Workshop at the Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s. The workshop ends today. It is aimed at building capacity and increasing the number of participants in Paralympic Sport. The focus of the important workshop is Paralympic sport.
There are many issues surrounding the reality of persons with disabilities. These include legal, constitutional, ethical and moral aspects. What about here in T&T? I have heard stories that can only be described as heartless, soulless and unconscionable.
No need to complicate the subject. A simple question. Do we care? As always,we talk a good game. But put aside condescending and gratuitous utterances and platitudes. Do we care? As a society do we really care about persons with disabilities? Or is it that we see them as a burden and nuisance value? Whatever the true answers, T&T sports will reflect the truth.
Further to that, the idea of disability is a nightmare to an elite sportsman and sportswoman. Most see persons with disabilities as a reminder of a reality that may be too fearsome to contemplate.
Can we boast then that we are a developed nation in the absence of a commitment and understanding of our disabled population and disability sport? Two things will happen along our lifeline. We will either die too soon or live too long. Many of us will live too long. And if we do, disability is inevitable. It is in this context that the point is made that how we treat and our attitude to persons with disability is a reflection of our responsibility or lack of it to ourselves.
Equal opportunity for the disabled is a notion that seems foreign to T&T. While the various interest groups fight for power and recognition, the grassroots, as always suffers. While some seek office and the trappings of office, the disabled still cannot enter buildings and bathrooms without severe inconvenience. National Sport Organisations, who are the governing bodies for their respective sports, make no provisions or have no programmes for the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities. On the other hand it is important that persons with disabilities and those who support them also accept that fighting the battle for acceptance and recognition ought not to be on the basis of sympathy, pity or a sense of obligation.
In other words, you cannot brow beat the wider society into addressing the issues. The discussion and dialogue must be on the basis of self-respect. Today, it is me. Tomorrow it could be or will soon be you. Disabilities are not only physical. There are mental, emotional and learning disabilities.There is disability due to accidents and sports injuries. While sports medicine and science has advanced to such a point that the treatment options for sports injuries are diverse and there has been a considerable improvement in the treatment for sports injuries.
Most elite level athletes will confess that there is a price they pay when father time comes calling. Maintaining physical activity and an active life style is not always as easy as it may appear.
In respect of persons with disabilities. According to the United Nation website www.un.org, the gap between talk and action is a worldwide reality as many countries don’t practice what they preach.
It is time to stop planning and talking and start doing. Just remember the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
NOTE: Brian Lewis is the honorary secretary general of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee—www.ttoc.org. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the TTOC.