Deafening Silence: Disabilities and Bahamian Society
By Joseph Gaskins
May 18, 2012 - 11:30:12 AM
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
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”
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
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 “
Equal Opportunity Bill” was introduced in the House
of Assembly, but I could find no evidence that suggested it had become
This failure is compounded by the utter lack of sensitivity
Bahamian society has for those with disabilities. The
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
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
and the Tribune
. You can reach him at
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