Every year, on December 3, the world recognizes International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The observation comes within the context of persons with disabilities being the world’s largest minority group and the fact that most of these individuals are marginalized in their society. The United Nations and all its States Parties have established this day therefore to celebrate the talents and abilities of persons with disabilities, whilst highlighting the barriers in society that continues to marginalize these individuals.
The theme for this year’s celebration is: “Transformative Solutions for Inclusive Development: The Role of Innovation in Fueling an accessible and equitable World.” The theme recognizes that for us to create an accessible and inclusive world, there must be the development of transformative solutions. Implicit in this theme is the appreciation that modern technologies have a preeminent role to play in building an accessible and inclusive society. In my 2019 journal article entitled “An Inclusive, Equitable and Prosperous Caribbean: The Case of Persons with Disabilities” I delineated how we can make life better for persons with disabilities in the Caribbean. In this context, I advocated the need for greater use of modern technologies. Similarly, in another journal article published in 2020 and entitled “Accessible and Inclusive City: Can Kingston Jamaica Measure Up?’” I argue for cities in the Caribbean to become more accessible for persons with disabilities. Again, modern technologies have an indispensable role to play in creating this accessible and equitable environment.
But whilst there is this recognition that modern technologies must play a quintessential role in this transformative development trajectory of the region, there are some existential challenges. Persons with disabilities throughout the region are unemployed with data from the 2017 Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) suggesting that between 80 and 90 per cent of the population of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean are unemployed. This economic barrier has contributed to persons with disabilities in the region being among the poorest. Thus, most of these individuals cannot afford modern technologies to assist them in participating and being included in the mainstream of society.
The issue is further problematized when we look at the 2022 World Report on Assistive Technologies, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). Data from the report is showing that up to 85 per cent of persons with disabilities in developed countries have access to some form of assistive technology. Conversely, in the developing countries, only between 3 and 10 per cent have access to this innovation that seeks to bridge the interactions between persons with disabilities and those without. One can therefore understand the major challenges that persons with disabilities are having with access to education, access to employment, access to public facilities and access to information, as modern technologies are paramount to these development indicators.
Governments within the Caribbean and other stakeholders, must therefore establish progressive policies that will facilitate transformative solutions such as modern technologies that will include persons with disabilities in the mainstream of Caribbean Society. I wish for all my brothers and sisters with disabilities in the Caribbean, a happy International Day for Persons with Disabilities. And remember, disability does not equate to inability.