It is indeed a pleasure for me to be here at this APP launch amongst you, the Community of Persons with Disabilities, along with my colleague Ministers and other Government officials and the representatives from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and disability NGOs.
I am standing here in awe of what has been achieved in unity and collective strength and what I have witnessed this week since the beginning of Disability Awareness week whose theme, “United we stand, Together we can” is demonstrated here in all its fullness.
It is amazing what we can achieve together as a nation to take care of the less fortunate in our society, enabling them to live their best lives no matter the circumstances and become as productive as possible despite any physical or mental disability! This collective effort involving the UNDP, as well as local NGOs, Corporate Bahamas and the Government through the National Commission, is a real and tangible commitment by The Bahamas to this special Community.
My Government is all about progress and this week as Disability Awareness Week kicked off we are showing that we are serious about our commitment to Persons with Disabilities. This week began with the ratification of ILO Convention 159 to establish the right for Persons with Disabilities to access Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Opportunities. Even though our laws have already enshrined such rights, the signing of this convention is also demonstrating to the international community that we are indeed committed to improving the quality of life for Persons with Disabilities. Skills training and job access are the key to achieving a pathway to independence. As responsible and concerned citizens, this is what we must each focus on – enabling whatever skill there is, to develop it and positively impact that person’s life. I am asking Corporate Bahamas to join the Government in recognizing the potential of persons with disabilities and providing employment opportunities that may never have been considered before.
I want to take this opportunity also, to commend Nassau Airport Development (NAD) for its Sunflower Lanyard Program for persons with disabilities as this sensitizes those who work at the airport, especially those on the front line that deal directly with
passengers; that a particular person may need extra time and assistance when travelling and going through formalities such as check-in or security or immigration. Lynden Pindling International Airport has joined some 26 countries and 180 airports in the implementation of this program. Congratulations on this initiative. Again, progress is in the right direction.
Yesterday, December 3rd, the globally observed, International Day of Persons with Disabilities gave visibility to the Community in the Motorcade and Windsor Park rally and Concert and I understand that ‘The Chosen Ones” junkanoo group will be out on Bay Street for Junkanoo!
Inclusion and Accessibility to every aspect of life enjoyed by those without disability will equalize the playing field for those who live with a disability. And that is what we strive to achieve with the AccessAbilityBahamas APP, developed by a Bahamian, Stephan Brown, especially for our Community of Persons with Disabilities, with one-touch access to emergency services, Nema Alerts and important news and information, as well as sign-language interpreter. It is user-friendly and will enable use by those who are blind or deaf as well. And this is in keeping with the theme for the International Day of the Disabled on December 3rd, 2022 – “transformative solutions for inclusive development.”
I pause at this time to thank the UNDP for seeing the potential of this APP and for partially funding the enhancements to the APP as a willing international partner, as always.
It is not only the Government that is tasked with enabling Persons with Disabilities but each and every one of us – we are admonished to be our brother’s keeper and to lend a helping hand – I recognize the contributions of the many NGOs that are represented here that serve this community. I also recognize the partnership with ALIV whose commitment to the Community is well-known and now, again, the commitment to have the AccessAbiltiyBahamas App as one of those that are standard with their phones. My sincere appreciation to ALIV and its Corporate Citizenry!
My Government has embarked on our aggressive agenda to equalize the playing field for Persons with Disabilities and is taking measures to focus on the rights that were given to PwDS as part of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act of 2014.
We are witnessing INCLUSION and ACCESSIBILITY in pragmatic and demonstrable ways like never before. This is indeed progress!
The 52-week Employment programme includes PwDS; this is a ground-breaking initiative as some 50 PwDS have been hired in the private and public sectors. I wish to commend Aliv again for offering job options for those with Disabilities as well as on-the-job training.
The Department of Labour will also enable job listings in the new app so that persons with disabilities may learn about job vacancies and apply in accordance with skills; A reminder that the current law states that for every 100 employees, that organization ought to have one person with a disability. Yes, this is an affirmative action initiative to ensure that PwDS are included! And this is progress indeed!
The Health and Wellness Ministry has spearheaded the Mental Health Bill which also seeks to give equal access to appropriate healthcare for those who suffer from mental illness. Progress!
A key factor in accessibility is affordable transportation to enable persons with disabilities to get to healthcare appointments, work, school, job interviews etc. This app will be a booking mechanism for a subsidized transportation system for persons with disabilities that the Government is currently working on. The technology is in place and we are putting service delivery in place for the provision of such transportation options. Again, progress indeed!
Of course, financial resources to achieve these goals are paramount so we are setting up a National Development Fund for PwDS, with the specific aim of enabling and developing PwDS with skills towards independence, to fund the planned Multi-purpose Day Centre for persons ageing out of the school system, a project we began some time ago but one that we hope to see completed in this administration.
In short, with inclusion as a foremost goal, we are attempting to equalize the opportunities for persons with disabilities throughout the length and breadth of The Bahamas, in order for them to be recognized as having the same access to services as
those who are without disabilities, the same access to housing and employment as the rest of the population and the same access to social and cultural life in The Bahamas. We are creating a pathway to independence for those living with a disability, restoring society’s acceptance of those who may be a little different, but who are still capable of contributing to our country with dignity and pride.
I take great pleasure in launching the AccessAbilityBahamas APP and to congratulate you all on your involvement with the Community of Persons with Disabilities in our beloved Bahamas.