During the 74th session of the United Nation’s General Assembly, Dr. Keith Rowley stated the following to the world:
“Mr. President, We remain troubled that, even as we approach the third decade of the 21st century, women, girls and persons with disabilities in many parts of the world are unable to enjoy basic human rights and freedoms. In our effort to combat this challenge, Trinidad and Tobago reaffirms its commitment to the delivery of improved healthcare, the continued enhancement of the educational system, and increased accessibility and support to persons with disabilities.”
The Autism Parents Association of Trinidad & Tobago (APATT) would like to pose the following question to the Prime Minister: How “troubled” is the government about the special needs children right here in Trinidad and Tobago?
Sir, in our very own country, our special needs children are denied their right to receive a public education with qualified teachers and it has been like this for countless years. Not once has any government said: It is enough, these children do matter, they possess endless potential and we need to make things right and provide what is rightfully theirs.
Like anything else in T&T, unless it happens to you, it becomes a non-issue and no matter how many meetings you attend, how many reports you provide, how many comments from parents you share, the changes that need to take place never amounts to nothing because there is no one that truly cares about our children. That’s the reality.
Awareness is out of the question. APATT made sure to meet every key individual that could bring change to this pressing situation including the relevant Ministers. We had discussions at length about the serious challenges our parents (and their children) face daily and the possible solutions that could be implemented immediately particularly in the area of education. What are the results of said meetings? They end with absolutely nothing confirmed other than the repetitious words of being “committed”, no feedback, no follow-up and no attempts to do anything significant.
It seems as though throughout the years, meetings, plans, projects, policies and drafts have become a way to keep parents quiet, making them believe that “something is happening” or “something is being planned”. These phrases have become a synonym to replace real actions.
Reaffirming a commitment to provide basic human rights such as access to education for children with special needs in this country without meaningful action to support it is a complete lack of respect to the intelligence of Special Needs Parents (and their children) in this country. Special Needs Parents have been waiting for many years hoping that anyone in power will do what is right and fulfill their responsibilities according to the UN rights of the Child and the UN Convention for persons with disabilities.
Mr. Prime Minister, while your intentions may be in the right place, the reality of special needs parents and their children suffering at ground level show that this government should be “troubled” at the gross lack of provisions, infrastructure and health care for the special needs community.
Despite the reports and cries from many, we have a Minister of Education, who believes that the Student Support Services Division has no issues with staffing. In reality, parents are not able to access aides for their children, psycho-ed evaluations take years to access because there are over 300 children on a waiting list and when they only have one behavioral therapist for the entire country. And yet, they are not understaffed. Pride is the mask of one’s own fault.
The recent introduction of the disability grant for minors that was planned and executed without feedback from special needs parents also left much to be desired. A lot of our single parents in particular are not able to access this grant because their children are considered to be moderate autistic and for the government of T&T, only if you are severely disabled (according to the opinion of the doctors they provide) you are considered disabled at all. Even if you have a lifelong disability such as Autism, you can still be rejected because your child might not be considered “autistic enough” to receive assistance.
In this scenario, a child that is not severely disabled, is not able to access a grant, is not able to access regular schooling and is not able to receive the necessary amount of therapy needed to become a functional part of society. This is “troubling”.
Things will continue to go downhill with regards to disabilities as long as the state continues approaching the issue with arrogance and treating special needs citizens as a liability rather than an asset or beggars imploring for alms rather than productive members of society.
Sir, how in good conscience, can you speak to the world about commitment to the disabled while, hundreds of special needs children aren’t able to access the most basic rights to education and health care in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sir, the main problem here is this… those with the power to implement changes do not listen to the parents and guardians who live with and take care of special needs children. Therefore, the government implements one or two things that they assume help but instead it misses the mark entirely.
Please listen attentively to the plight of hundreds of Autism families who will not remain silent about these critical issues as long as our children continue being denied their basic rights and as long as the government of Trinidad & Tobago continues failing and refusing to fulfill their responsibility to provide them.
Our children matter, our children exist and they are here to stay.