NASSAU, The Bahamas – Technology is the equalizer for all citizens of the world, and especially for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Obadiah H. Wilchcombe, said Friday.
Addressing the Morning Session of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union ICT Week’s Persons with Disabilities Workshop (held Friday, September 9), Minister Wilchcombe said the Davis Administration is going to define equality for Persons with Disabilities by the action it undertakes to promote equality, accessibility and inclusion. (The Workshop, which was divided into a Morning and Afternoon Session was also addressed by Mr. Wayde Watson, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs; Mr. Rodney Taylor, Secretary-General, CTU; Mr. Carlton Smith, Chief Executive Officer, the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) and Miss Erin Brown, Disability Advocate and Inclusion Consultant.
“Those of us who are policymakers have the responsibility. And in our country, we are going to define equality by our actions not simply by our words and our speeches. We are going to do more to ensure that our people have opportunities. We are going to lift our people more. God has given us a wonderful opportunity. The truth of the matter is that technology is the equalizer. Technology makes it all possible for us. Technology allows for distance education, technology allows for every person to have the opportunity, but utilized in the correct way.
“What I find is that you can be free and you can have equality, (but) if you cannot board a plane, then you are still not free. I find it amazing that when you are talking about freedom, yes, I can go to school, but if there are no provisions for me to get to school, and no provisions made for me to be in school, I’m still not free. It’s still not equal. Yes we can talk about equality; we can say we have equality, but yeah I have the right to get a job, but no one wants to hire me so I do not have employment. The bottom line the word is used, but how do we ensure human equality? How do we ensure that all people have opportunities?”
Minister Wilchcombe told his audience that governments must lead the way in this regard.
“Governments must set the example. We must set the example. How do we ensure that the government’s website for example? It exists, but do the blind have access to it? Do the hearing impaired have access to it? That is why I am celebrating my good friend and colleague (Minister of State) Pia Glover-Rolle who is in the Public Service who has been able to cause the employment of 50 disabled persons in the first instance and more to come. Within my own ministry, we are doing the same thing.
“I am hoping that the Regulators, and I love what my friend Carlton Smith (Mr. Carlton Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the country’s Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority – URCA) said because if he gets the body (Community of Persons with Disabilities) together, then why can’t we consider a levy that should be paid by all licensees of technology in our country. Licensees that would pay that levy that could go directly towards the advancement of those persons with disabilities. The advancement of technology to be utilized in a country like ours that has so many islands – an archipelagic nation, many challenges, so why can’t we have a levy.
“Why can’t we ensure that our television stations set aside moments in the day (dedicated) for programmes dealing with disabilities, programmes where we are dealing with situations in our society where individuals who are from the disabled community are able to host these programmes – people like Erin Brown — talking about, and creating programmes to show their creativity and the brilliance of the existence of our people. That is what we should be doing now. We should not be afraid to think because God has given us this wonderful opportunity,” Mr. Wilchcombe added.
The Social Services Minister applauded the efforts of Ms. Nalini Bethel, Chairperson of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, her Commissioners, and members of the Secretariat of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities for the work they have been doing to advance the cause of equality, accessibility and inclusion in-country. Ms. Bethel took over as Commission Chair in March, 2022.
“I know that under her leadership we will bring the changes,” Minister Wilchcombe said. “We intend to reach out to communities throughout our country, because in our Town Meetings, in our discussions, in her investigative work, we have discovered that there are so many, so many that we did not know existed; so many that we did not know were sitting at home in some of our islands. We were just in Acklins recently, and we heard some stories. In West Grand Bahama, in Eight Mile Rock, stories. Individuals because one time ago it was taboo. We didn’t want to talk about it. We were ashamed to talk about it. Shame to talk about the gifts that God gave us. The truth is your gifts, you have the ability, you are given talents and we intend to use those and use your talents. And so yes it is an honour to be here today and I want to encourage you in the work that you are doing. I want to encourage CTU because this work is imperative.”