In­te­gra­tion the way for­ward for NCPD

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kayra Williams

“If as a so­ci­ety we cater to our peo­ple first, if we’re seen as a des­ti­na­tion that is com­pas­sion­ate and sen­si­tive to the needs of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, it will lead to an in­crease in tourist ar­rivals, and an in­crease in ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our des­ti­na­tion.”

Mer­philus James has served as Pres­i­dent of The Na­tional Coun­cil of and for Per­sons With Dis­abil­i­ties (NCPD) for the past two years. It is a role that he did not ask for; nev­er­the­less, he is now cer­tain it was his call­ing. James has, from the age of three, used a pros­thetic and he knows first hand the chal­lenges that come with liv­ing with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity.

When he spoke to the STAR this week, James ad­mit­ted he had re­sisted be­ing part of the or­gan­i­sa­tion for many years due to an aver­sion to be­ing in the spot­light. Things changed when he was in­vited to an an­nual gen­eral meet­ing of the NCPD in 2015.

“I was very sur­prised when I was nom­i­nated to be Pres­i­dent,” he said. “The rea­son I de­cided to take up the po­si­tion was be­cause I had long heard that once other peo­ple put their faith in you, and they call you to serve, you ac­cept the call.”

As we spoke in his of­fice, the Coun­cil Pres­i­dent pro­vided a run­down on the NCPD: It was es­tab­lished in 1981 to serve as an um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion that catered to the var­i­ous dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cates on is­land. That list in­cludes the Saint Lu­cia Blind Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion, the for­mer As­so­ci­a­tion for the Deaf and Hear­ing Im­paired, the Cere­bral Palsy As­so­ci­a­tion, Sickle Cell As­so­ci­a­tion, and var­i­ous other sub groups.

The NCPD fo­cuses on pro­mot­ing poli­cies, pro­grammes, prac­tices, and pro­ce­dures for in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties, and em­pow­er­ing the dis­abled com­mu­nity. They rely on a monthly sub­ven­tion from govern­ment to the tune of EC$12,500. The sub­ven­tion is the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s pri­mary source of fund­ing, some­thing James says the Coun­cil is ex­tremely grate­ful for. The money al­lows them to pay full-time staff, rental costs for two of­fices (one in Careille and the other in Vieux Fort), and main­tain and op­er­ate a ve­hi­cle which is used to dis­trib­ute food ham­pers and do­nated items to clients.

Board mem­bers like James work purely on a vol­un­tary ba­sis. Their du­ties in­clude writ­ing project pro­pos­als, co­or­di­nat­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of ba­sic food items and other san­i­tary sup­plies to the un­der­priv­i­leged, en­sur­ing clients get their monthly $200 dis­abil­ity grant from govern­ment, cre­at­ing link­ages with var­i­ous spon­sors, and nav­i­gat­ing all the other chal­lenges that come with liv­ing with a dis­abil­ity in a third world coun­try.

“It is very un­for­tu­nate that the re­al­ity around the world is usu­ally that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties tend to be some of the poor­est of the pop­u­la­tion,” James noted, “It’s one thing to al­ready be poor, or in­di­gent, but to have a dis­abil­ity is an even greater bur­den.”

Thank­fully, with the help of or­gan­i­sa­tions like the NCPD, there is hope on the hori­zon. James spoke about projects that were cur­rently un­der­way, in­clud­ing a pros­thetic man­u­fac­tur­ing work­shop made pos­si­ble by the Aus­tralian govern­ment. Through the ini­tia­tive, per­sons re­quir­ing a pros­thetic can pur­chase one at dis­counted cost – $3,000 to $4,000 for a ba­sic pros­thetic leg. Re­cently, a part­ner­ship was es­tab­lished with the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints which made US$10,000 avail­able an­nu­ally to pay for pros­thetic limbs for those most in need.

There was much more to be proud of, par­tic­u­larly the Coun­cil’s an­nual sum­mer camp for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties. This year the four-day event saw the at­ten­dance of 125 kids. For many of those chil­dren, James said the out­ing was their only chance to get out of the house. The re­al­ity for far too many chil­dren with se­vere phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions, or emo­tional or in­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­ment prob­lems, was that they would not be en­rolled in reg­u­lar or spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems, for fi­nan­cial and other rea­sons. For those chil­dren, the full-day camp was some­thing to look for­ward to; some­thing that would not be pos­si­ble with­out the sup­port of the pri­vate sec­tor and other donors who make the camp the suc­cess it is.

Ac­cord­ing to James, one of the

ma­jor goals of the camp is in­te­gra­tion. The di­rec­tors are also on a mis­sion to in­cor­po­rate more ac­tiv­i­ties into the camp struc­ture that will help chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties fully ex­plore their creative po­ten­tial.

“For too long in this coun­try we found that chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties were ex­posed to just ba­sic ac­tiv­i­ties, like arts and craft,” he said. “There is so much more that can be done to ex­plore their po­ten­tial with tech­nol­ogy, and mu­sic, which is why I com­mend the Dun­na­tor School for their steel pan group which is made up of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties. We need to think beyond just sit­ting down and glu­ing things to­gether, or colour­ing.”

Al­though there were tri­umphs, there were just as many chal­lenges faced by peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. Chief among those was the is­sue of ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Though some changes have been made in the is­land’s cap­i­tal city in re­cent times, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of ramps for wheel­chairs and other mo­bil­ity de­vices, users still face ma­jor con­straints ac­cess­ing even the most ba­sic of fa­cil­i­ties. Even more glar­ing is the ab­sence of a Jet­way on the is­land’s main air­port.

“Imag­ine a per­son on a wheel­chair hav­ing to be car­ried off an air plane, and they feel like lug­gage,” James said bluntly. “Users of wheel­chairs take high of­fence to that. They want the free­dom to be able to wheel them­selves. If as a so­ci­ety we cater to our peo­ple first, if we’re seen as a des­ti­na­tion that is com­pas­sion­ate and sen­si­tive to the needs of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, it will lead to an in­crease in tourist ar­rivals, and an in­crease in ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our des­ti­na­tion. Ac­cess is a ma­jor prob­lem.”

Plans in the near fu­ture for the board of the NCPD in­clude ad­vo­cat­ing for tax ex­emp­tions for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, ex­plor­ing op­tions for spe­cial schol­ar­ships for out­stand­ing stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, and en­gag­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers on the pos­si­bil­ity of in­creas­ing the dis­abil­ity grant. A fair start­ing fig­ure, ac­cord­ing to the Coun­cil pres­i­dent is $300, as it would “al­low care­tak­ers and chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties greater free­dom".

“There is a cy­cle of poverty that we see par­tic­u­larly in cases where par­ents have chil­dren with se­vere dis­abil­i­ties, and the par­ent must give up the op­tion of full-time em­ploy­ment and stay at home to take care of the child,” he ex­plained. “It’s worse when it’s a sin­gle par­ent. We want to com­bat this, and we can only do so with so­cial pro­tec­tion.”

Two years have passed since Mer­philus James took up the man­date as Pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Coun­cil of and for Peo­ple With Dis­abil­i­ties. The great­est les­son he has thus far learnt has to do with the fact that what we may think dis­abil­ity is in Saint Lu­cia, doesn’t even be­gin to cover the re­al­ity. "You’d un­der­stand it is such a dy­namic thing,” he said. "The con­cept of per­sons of­ten is that this per­son was born with a dis­abil­ity. The re­al­ity that an able-bod­ied per­son to­day, be­cause of a stroke, be­cause of a bul­let, be­cause of an ac­ci­dent, be­cause of an ill­ness like di­a­betes, could be ren­dered dis­abled to­mor­row.”

He added: “When you sit and you see hun­dreds of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties at Christ­mas par­ties, you un­der­stand how much you’re not see­ing. It is a cause worth fight­ing for.”

Mer­philus James, Presid Wilhe

dent of the NCPD (ex­treme right) with staff mem­bers elmina Reynolds and John Phillip.

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