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Columns : The New Bahamian - Joseph Gaskins Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Deafening Silence: Disabilities and Bahamian Society
By Joseph Gaskins
May 18, 2012 - 11:30:12 AM

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Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to GuardianTalk Radio’s livestream. I catch Teej Grant’s “Coffee Break” and “The Darold Miller Show.” Honestly, it has become a bit of a distraction; I become far to engrossed to get anything done.

A few weeks ago, I happened to catch Michael Strachan’s “Morning Blend.” Dr. Michelle Major, and one other doctor whose name I don’t recall, talked about the issues disabled Bahamians face on daily basis. The doctors claimed that there were about 7,000 autistic persons in the Bahamas, but most surprising was this statistic: 30% of Bahamians are disabled in some way.

I’m not sure the source of this statistic or its accuracy, maybe I didn’t even hear it right, but if it is true that 30% of Bahamians are disabled, it would mean that the lives of almost 1 in 3 Bahamians are affected in some way by a disability of some kind. Whatever the size of the population of disabled persons, there are important questions that must be asked.

Why is there so little talk about disabilities and being disabled in the Bahamas by Bahamians? How are disabled Bahamians supported in the Bahamas? And, what place do disabled Bahamians hold in the new government’s policy initiatives as it begins its new term?

I have a personal stake in these questions. Many people are unaware but I was recently diagnosed with minor developmental dyspraxia, a disorder which can be similar to dyslexia. It is part learning disability, part neurological disorder. Most who deal with dyspraxia bond over the difficulties we have learning to tie our shoelaces growing up. It’s one of the first things we can attribute to the condition.

As we get older we recognize other impairments. For example, my working memory is noticeably weak; my visual-motor integration (which makes driving, among other things, difficult), visual processing and phonological processing are also challenged.

I forget names quickly, suddenly have difficulty distinguishing which way is left and right, numbers like ATM pins seem to fly out of my head and I almost never remember birthdays (much to the chagrin of my friends and family). I have difficulty with spelling, mathematics, and organizing both my thoughts and my environment. Editing my own writing even for this column is often an extended task.

Now, you’re probably saying what I said after my screening: “You’re a PhD student and you write publicly, that doesn’t make sense.” Like any person who is “differently-abled,” I am not completely limited by my challenges. I scored in the “superior-range” in some areas, including my verbal abilities. In fact, I scored higher than 96% of the population when tested on reading strategies. I am a “well-compensated individual” and I’ve come up with my own coping strategies over time. But, that’s with barely any support from Bahamian society at large.

When I was growing up there was no mention of learning disabilities. There were remedial classes and the threat of experiencing the shame that follows repeating a grade when I couldn’t perform in math class or struggled with the difference between the letters “b”  and “d”.

 Thanks to my parents’ patience and attentiveness, and a few dedicated teachers, I’ve made it as far as I have. Schools were not obligated to make arrangements for me and there were no programs in place to equip me with the skills to overcome my challenges of which we were aware.

My disability is minor compared to many other Bahamians and their family members who cope with challenges on a daily basis. Take for example this video chronicling the amazing work the REACH program is doing with autistic children and their parents.

It is shameful that since the 1990’s successive governments have promised those with disabilities that a law would be passed guaranteeing them equal opportunities and protections from discrimination, but have failed to deliver. In January of 2012, the “ Disabilities Equal Opportunity Bill” was introduced in the House of Assembly, but I could find no evidence that suggested it had become law.

This failure is compounded by the utter lack of sensitivity Bahamian society has for those with disabilities. The 2008 Human Rights Report from the U.S. Department of State details the difficulties faced by Bahamians with disabilities. Though there are laws that require buildings to be accessible by persons with physical disabilities, these laws are not adequately enforced. Also, “Advocates for persons with disabilities complained of widespread job discrimination and general apathy on the part of private employers and political leaders toward the need for training and equal opportunity.”

Government officials have also acknowledged that we have a long way to go. Consultant at the Department of Social Services Disability Affairs Division, Iris Adderley, remarked of her experience in that Bahamas, “People put you in this frame of mind where you are always a child to them; that is demeaning. It is also disrespectful. Persons with disabilities want to live with dignity.”

This is what it comes down to really: dignity. As long as we cling to this deafening silence around issues of disability, those who are disabled will continue to be excluded from Bahamian society. All Bahamians should have an equal opportunity to live with dignity and without the necessary legal protections (and their enforcement), that dignity is withheld from those who are faced with challenges of disability daily. Our government must act now.

For more information on how you can support Bahamians with disabilities visit the Disabled Persons’ Organization of the Bahamas here.

Joey Gaskins is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was born in Grand Bahama Island and is currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he has attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and has begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology. Joey also writes for  the Nassau  Liberal  
www. nassauliberal. webs.com  and the Tribune . You can reach him at  j.gaskins@lse.ac.uk


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