Bill to protect rights of disabled sent to select committee

The Persons with Disabilities Bill 2009, touted as being transformational to the lives of the differently abled in the country, was last evening sent to a special parliamentary Select Committee after debate.

The bill is in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and will see the establishment of a National Commission on Disabilities, as a constitutional requirement. According to the Explanatory Memorandum of the bill, “it elevates a person with disability in so far as it is physically and otherwise practicable to the position of a person without a disability.”

The bill will see a number of entities, including the ministries of Health, Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Education, Housing and Water and Culture, Youth and Sports collaborating to address the particular needs of the differently-abled in the country.

The bill was debated in the absence of the main opposition PNCR-1G, which boycotted yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly. Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy and Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir both chided the PNCR-1G for its absence and said it demonstrated a lack of interest by the party in the affairs of the disabled. They both harped on previous statements by the leadership of the main opposition, where they indicated their intention to attend Parliament on a selective basis determined by the importance of the matter to be debated.

Ramsammy, who introduced the bill, said it addressed the fundamental issues of “liberty, equality and social justice” for the disabled within the society.  According to him, there are more than 50,000 disabled persons in the country.  Yesterday’s debate was conducted in the presence of several differently abled persons who were specially invited to the sitting.

Pointing out that the government has made progress in addressing issues relating to persons with disabilities, he said that this piece of legislation would accelerate the work being done.

The health minister said that Cabinet had previously ordered the establishment of such a commission, but pointed out that this move will now have the establishment of the commission ordained by law.

According to him, only 22 per cent of persons living with disabilities are employed. He also said that less than 5 per cent of children who are disabled are allowed to go to school.

The health minister pointed out that discussions on the bill began since 1994 and that there was widespread consultation with various stakeholders. He said the bill took into consideration the various economic peculiarities of the country and its economy.

Lamenting the absence of vehicles properly equipped to transport persons with disabilities, Ramsammy said his ministry has applied to the National Tender Board to facilitate the purchase of a specially equipped $20 million bus to help with this purpose. He said that within the next three months this bus should be available to transport disabled persons within Region 4. This region, the minister later pointed out, was where the majority of disabled persons resided.

The bill in its current form proposes that every person with a disability shall register with the commission with respect to his/her disability. The government through the Social Security Ministry had previously commenced this process and so far 1,961 persons have registered, the House was told last evening.

The piece of legislation also seeks to safeguard against discrimination of the disabled by their employees. Under the legislation, an employer who fails to comply with it commits an offence, and could be subject to a fine of $50,000.

The bill also addresses issues such as the education of children with disabilities. According to Sub-Part 11 of Part IV of the bill, “the minister responsible for education in collaboration with the commission shall formulate and implement the national education programme to ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system because of their situation.

Sub-Part III of Part V addresses the national health programme for persons with disabilities.  “Health materials for persons with disabilities are not subject to tax,” the Explanatory Memorandum stated.  “The minister shall facilitate the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities and shall establish rehabilitation centres where they are necessary.”

Also proposed in the bill is that a differently abled person who feels discriminated against can complain to the Commission or the Chief Labour Officer and may take other action to seek redress.

AFC MP Latchmin Punalall indicated her party’s support of the piece of legislation but asked that it be sent to a Special Select Committee, where it could be further discussed and improved.

Minister within the Education Ministry Dr Desrey Fox said that her ministry was committed towards delivering a quality education to children with special needs.

She pointed out that so far there are nine institutions which currently established for such a purpose. Fox also pointed out that the aspects of meeting the special education needs of disabled children has been included in the curriculum for teachers training at the Cyril Potter College of Education.
Fox also said that in January, the ministry will be engaged in a special sensitization campaign to highlight issues related to the care of children with special needs.

Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir and PPP/C MP Indra Chandarpal both indicated their support for the piece of legislation in their brief addresses.

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