Today, April 2nd 2021 is Autism Awareness Day. For this year’s observance, the United Nation’s theme is: ‘Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World’.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and changed the lives of many individuals in the areas of employment, family, education and health. It has brought to light the many inequalities that exist in our society, particularly in the area of education in Trinidad & Tobago.
How is it possible for autistic individuals to be included in the workplace when they are refused the right to receive an education? How can they become productive members of society when their rights are constantly trampled?
The Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes “the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others,” and to a “work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.”
Since APATT’s foundation in 2015 as an activist group, we have been very vocal about the responsibility of governments with regards to these issues. It took some time, but we were glad to see many other voices joining us with our theme of “education being a right” and the state being the solely responsible agent administering for it rather than a charity project placed upon NGO’s .
We have met every single key individual in government and outside government and we addressed these very important issues on behalf of our parents. We provided all the data and information needed, the problems our families face daily as well as the solutions APATT proposed to alleviate many of these challenges.
From Government Ministers, heads of international organizations to the President of the Nation, we met them all in countless meetings. Unfortunately, meetings have become a way to make parents believe “something is being done” but not one of these meetings produced anything significant that practically helped address these concerns.
We are still observing requests for “data”, for “national consultations”, for “feedback about the present state on disability resources” in an endless and vicious cycle of purposeless meetings and excuses.
We realized that we did everything in our power as an activist organization and as Autism Parents ourselves, without any kind of funding or paid staff. We never asked for nor promoted donations as we felt that only further commercialized and created the illusion that somehow parents were actually getting therapy and education for their children.
However, when people still chose to give monetarily we ensured that 100% of it actually went to the autism parents and their children. The maintenance of web sites, ads, video production and so forth has been funded in its totality by the pockets of APATT founders who are also the parents of three on the autism spectrum.
We started this organization with the hope of bringing a NEW voice into the disability community and we accomplished just that, empowering parents, groups and organisations to speak up and demand what is rightfully theirs rather than accept what others decided their children needed.
There are very serious issues among the special needs community in this country. There is a lot of suffering, sadness and neglect that activities, parties, balloons and fanfare will not fix. Unless an honest, consensus and direct approach is made to intervene on a national scale then all that will happen is what is known locally as ‘the same ole, same ole thing’ year after year.
April 2021 will be the last Autism Awareness Month for the Autism Parents Association of Trinidad & Tobago (APATT) as an organisation. The founders will continue advocating as parents and individuals but no longer as a NGO.
We want to thank all those, especially the media, who have helped us highlight the needs of autism parents and their children during this six year run. We wish each one of you ALL the best and let us continue pressing forward with a focus on the rights of our children.