The fundamental law of human beings is inter-dependence.
A person is a person through other persons Archbishop
I thought of these words when I read about the tragic death
of 50 -year-old Prakash Singh. The media reported that Singh,
who had no legs, was found slumped on the drivers seat
in his car which was parked under a tree on the compound of
the San Fernando General Hospital.
Reports are he had died two-three days before anyone noticed
he was dead. His wheelchair, a bottle of water and a bucket
with a pair of trousers were found outside the vehicle.
Singhs car had been adapted to enable him to drive.
Police suspect he died of natural causes. What I find tragic
is that it appears Singh, of no fixed abode, had been living
in his car on that compound for over three months and some
people knew about his plight and did nothing.
Have we become so heartless as a society that we walk on the
other side of the road and ignore the plight of those in need?
It was Jane Addams who said: The good we secure for
ourselves is precarious and uncertainuntil it is secured
for all of us and incorporated into our common life.
We all have a responsibility to promote the dignity of each
human being. Are we including people with disabilities in
our communities? Do they have real jobs, friends, homes, education
Inter alia, the Vision 2020 document states that by that date
it is envisioned that T&T will become an inclusive society
in which every citizen will have equal opportunities to achieve
his/her fullest potential; all citizens will enjoy a high
quality of life and the diversity and creativity of all our
people will be valued and nurtured. Those who are disabled
also have talent and are creative.
We cant sprinkle fairy dust on citizens and expect them
to change as if by magic in the year 2020. The implementation
of a countrys vision is serious business. Change should
have begun some time ago. But its not too late. Change
must start with you and me now, today! However, we can only
ensure that we are moving in the right direction if we are
all reading from the same page. Do we all share the same vision?
Helen Keller, the deaf/blind American author, activist and
lecturer, was once asked: What do you think would be
worse than being blind? She replied: Having sight
What is our vision in T&T and in our communities for all
our people? Our people are our greatest assets. The deaths
of individuals such as Prakash, Emily, Sean and Akiel should
not be in vain. What lessons have we learned from their deaths?
I can only pray that there will be an investigation into the
circumstances leading up to Singhs death. Do our government
ministries, eg the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of
Social Development, have policies for dealing with such issues?
The latter ministry has responsibility for meeting the needs
of people with disability. All people, no matter the extent
of their disability, deserve respect, dignity and a life worth
living to their fullest capacity.
Does the head of security, who obviously knew that Singh had
been living in his car on the compound, know to whom he should
report if he is to seek appropriate assistance for someone
in Singhs circumstances? What about members of staff
at the hospital who may have seen Singh there day in and day
out for three months?
And what about Singhs family and the community in which
he lived before he became homeless?
We must all hold ourselves accountable for the state of affairs
in our country. We must address the erosion of the extended
family, the growth of materialism, selfishness, individualism,
and lack of respect for life.
While a review of our legislation related to the rights/entitlements
of disabled people may be overdue, legislation alone will
not enable us to build an inclusive society. Our faith communities
must play a greater role in educating and encouraging their
faithful to live their faiths by demonstrating love
More than 10 per cent of our people are disabled. In our quest
to promote equality, integration, and dignity in T&T,
we must not forget those, like Singh, who are vulnerable.
Many individuals who are disabled continue to be the subject
of social prejudices, discrimination, abuse, neglect and segregation.
I read the story of a young man who was suffering deteriorating
use of his legs and who relied on a wheelchair to get around.
A big part of what makes disability so frightening is
the treatment it elicits from others... this is true at all
levels of society... Everybody wants to imagine that theyll
still be loved, even after losing their power. But too often
we build relationships to share power. If one of us cant
deliver, poof goes the relationship. I think of
all the disabled people who struggle to live independently...
Were learning that were disabled mostly by ourselves.
Tackling the social/economic inequality faced by those who
are disabled and their families requires resources and policy
initiatives. T&Ts disability strategyif we
have onemust include a framework for action towards
a fully inclusive society.
One of my friends from New Zealand has been telling me about
that countrys disability strategy which includes pathways
to inclusion. All government departments there are required
to prepare annual plans on how they intend to implement the
I am certain that there are many such strategies that can
inform any plans that we may have. There is no need to reinvent
the wheel if we can adapt certain strategies to our local
situation. However, we must act with a sense of urgency if
we are to ensure that disabled members of our communities
are given the chance to participate in and contribute to society
and to achieve their potential.
In a speech on the theme Building a truly inclusive
society, Steve Maharey, a government minister in New
Zealand, spoke about their disability strategy. He rightly
said: Whether we work in partnership across government
agencies, with community leaders or groups, or with individuals,
success in building social wellbeing boils down to a bond
between peoplepeople who share a common vision and who
are committed to work together to achieve it.
The challenge for us is to work tirelessly to forge such a
bond and to commit ourselves to work to achieve our visionremembering
always, as Cesar Chavez says, We cannot seek achievement
for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for
our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include
the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake and for
As we approach another Independence Day, let us recognise
the importance of interdependence among our people.
Leela Ramdeen is a lawyer and education consultant