Address by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC on the Occasion of the Opening of the National Enrichment Centre Carlsen Field on Tuesday July 21, 2015
It is my pleasure to join with you today in sharing this historic experience of commissioning the National Enrichment Centre for persons living with disabilities.
The concept for a facility of this nature was conceived early in the life of this administration. Today we are pleased to deliver the fulfilment of that vision.
National Enrichment Centre for Persons with Disabilities
The National Enrichment Centre for Persons with Disabilities is earmarked to provide rehabilitation services, opportunities for vocational training and employment, independent life skills programmes, socially interactive activities and therapeutic services for persons with disabilities.
It is intended that the therapeutic and related services to be provided at the centre would strengthen and support the existing services offered at the various public and private health facilities.
A main provision of the Centre is an interdisciplinary range of therapies for the population of persons with disabilities. Persons with cerebral palsy, physical, motor-neurone, hearing and speech disabilities often require a range of therapies for their rehabilitation and effective integration in society and would have access to such services at the Centre. Importantly, all services at the Centre will be at no cost to the community of persons with disabilities.
The commissioning of the Enrichment Centre today also gives me the opportunity to share with the community of persons living with disabilities and indeed the national community several other signal developments in government’s overall strategy for ensuring equity for persons living with disabilities.
My Government’s Record on disabilities
I would like to talk about my Government’s record in helping our people with disabilities.
Within the last decade, the issues surrounding disability have evolved with new approaches replacing earlier views. International treaties on disability have advanced, the United Nations has adopted new resolutions and new assistive devices and technologies are constantly emerging with increasingly shorter product life cycles. New research and legislation for the protection of persons with disabilities are being adopted transnationally.
As a consequence, the Disability Affairs Unit of the Ministry of the People and Social Development has been mandated to conduct a review and revision of the existing Policy to adequately reflect social, legislative, technological and international disability related changes.
In June, 2015, Trinidad and Tobago ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Ratification obliges my Government to:
1. To adopt all appropriate legislation (including revision of existing legislation), administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the present Convention;
2. To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organisation or private enterprise;
3. In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision- making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, State Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organisations;
4. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, each State Party undertakes to take measures to the maximum of its available resources (including revision of the national budget) and, where needed, within the framework of international cooperation, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of these rights, without prejudice to those obligations contained in this Convention that are immediately applicable according to international law;
5. To collect data that will monitor the implementation and enforcement of the State’s recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
6. To establish a working group to implement/monitor/evaluate the National Policy and UNCRPD, and
7. To adhere to the reporting requirements of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the progress made within two years after entry into force of the Convention and subsequently every four years.
An appropriate legislative framework is necessary to ensure Trinidad and Tobago’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to give effect to the National Policy on Persons with Disabilities.
A draft Legislative Policy has been prepared and is currently receiving the attention of the Office of the Attorney General
How we are helping people with disabilities
Establishing of a National Register of Persons with Disabilities
The Ministry of the People and Social Development is actively pursuing the establishment of a national registry of persons with disabilities. Establishing a national register of persons with disabilities is supported by Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and is in keeping with the recommendations for disability related data collection outlined in the existing national Policy. The potential benefits of establishing a register include the establishment of baseline data, improved allocation of resources and more precisely targeted programmes for persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of the People and Social Development established the Unemployment Relief Programme Social in 2011. The Programme provides parents of children with disabilities with short term employment. It is geared toward parents who are unable to pursue employment due to the severity of their children’s impairments. Participants of the programme engage in income earning activities such as woodworking and joinery, small scale agriculture and food preparation. In addition, the programme also offers minor adjustments to dwellings to assure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Funding Support to NGOs
The NGO and Disability Affairs Departments of the Ministry of the People and Social development provides ongoing quarterly subventions, one-off grants, donations and contributions to NGOs affiliated with persons with disabilities for the conduct of training and sensitization workshops, to support operational expenditures and to defray expenses related to the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebrations.
My Government has introduced Income Maintenance Measures
1. Reduction in Income Qualifying Criterion for Assistance
2. The Ministry of the People and Social Development has increased the annual income qualifying ceiling for the Disability Assistance Grant (DAG) from $3,600.00 to $12,000.00, making the DAG more accessible to a wider group of persons with disabilities.
3. Review of the Special Child and Medical Aids Grant
4. The Ministry of the People and Social Development has increased the quantum for the Special Child Grant to the current level of eight hundred dollars and the Medical Aids and Equipment Granthas increased from five thousand dollars to seven thousand dollars.
5. Increase in Disability Assistance Grant and Direct Deposit System
6. The Ministry of the People and Social Development has increased the Disability Assistance Grant to the current amount of $1,800.00 per month.
7. The Social Welfare Department funds approximately 600 million dollars in recurrent expenditure for the Disability Assistance Grants. The Ministry has implemented a system in which the DAG and other grants are now deposited directly to the bank accounts of persons with disabilities for additional security and convenience.
It’s a great pleasure to open this centre today.
I feel confident that the commissioning of the NEC in Carlsen Field today will go a long way towards addressing the need for access to therapy and training and the other services that will be provided at the centre.
I hope that you are reassured that government has a wider vision and strategy for achieving equity for persons living with disabilities. It is our hope and our belief that we can continue to partner with the individuals and families and professionals and NGOs associated with the community of persons living with disabilities to ensure the success of this initiative and our greater goal of Helping Empowering and Transforming Lives.
Our motivation is greater equality in our country, making sure that all places, all businesses are more friendly, accessible and open to disabled people.
Its important business opens its arms to disabled people.
Employing disabled people is the right thing to do. It is right for disabled people. It is right for business, and it is right for our country too. Of course, there are some disabled people who have more complex needs and can never be expected to work, and we will never expect them to do that, and we will always support them.
That is what a compassionate country like Trinidad and Tobago should do. But many disabled people can work and in fact want to work, and with the right care, work is good for them and for the country. And it is absolutely right that we should do everything possible to support them.
Our country’s businesses cannot afford to do without the talents and skills of disabled people, and frankly, neither can our country.
As a nation we are a leader in recognising and facilitating the rights for disabled people, but I’m not satisfied with that; I want us to go further in changing the perceptions of disability in our society.
We must change perceptions of disability and we must ensure there are greater opportunities for disabled people – in the workplace and beyond.
The new Trinidad and Tobago we are building is ambitious, idealistic, and united.
A place where people succeed on the basis of what they did for their country, rather than what they take from their country.
Having promised and delivered a turnaround, growth and progress in our first term, our work must continue into the second term if we are to truly achieve a nation we can celebrate.
I make this promise to all our people.
And of course people with disabilities are an important part of our country and have a significant contribution to make. I hope the commissioning of this centre is a firm signal of our intent.