As preparations continue for the ‘I AM ABLE’ Conference (December 4th-6th), persons with disabilities in Antigua and Barbuda have been giving their perspective on the meeting as well their aspirations for the differently abled in the country.

Mr. St. Claire Henry and Ms. Chelsee Merchant recently spoke to Janelle Charles-Williams, the ‘I AM ABLE’ Conference Public Relations Liaison. Henry, disabled from the waist down since 2001, as a result of a spine infection, eagerly voiced his expectations.

“I hope this conference will bring persons with disabilities to the forefront so that society will understand how we function, how we live and appreciate that even though we live with disabilities, we are still able to produce, to contribute, to function, even though we do it differently.

“I do not want the conference to be a one-off event. This is something we must build on each year during the Disability Awareness Week of Activities.”

Henry wants the ‘I AM ABLE’ Conference to formulate and adopt a White Paper outlining key policies that persons with disabilities want to be implemented.

Specifically, he spoke about equal access to facilities, to buildings, to bathrooms in particular. He alluded to bathroom stalls in the city which he says are “not conducive to persons with disabilities, to people who are differently abled.”

Meanwhile, Chelsee Merchant spoke about the need for greater awareness within the wider society regarding the needs of and issues affecting persons living with disabilities. She stressed the importance of consulting and including persons with disabilities in public policy deliberations and in the decision making process.

“The policymakers need to consult with and speak to us. They need to get our point of view about how to go about doing certain things, such as designing buildings that are accessible to persons with disabilities. No one knows when they will become disabled in some way. “

Chelsee was involved in a motorbike accident six years ago that led to the loss of one of her hands. The mother of three has refused to let her disability lead her into the depths of self-pity. ‘’ You just can’t sit back and be sorry for yourself. Don’t be in a wheelchair and say I can’t do it. If you don’t try, you don’t know what you can do. You have to be strong.

Continuing, Chelsee added, “I am able to cook, I am a good cook, an excellent one. Indeed I can do anything I put my mind to.”

St. Claire Henry also emphasized the importance of greater societal awareness and the benefits of being positive and having a strong support system.

He pointed out that many persons only focus on and become involved in disability issues when they themselves or a family member, experience a disability. Only then do they become advocates for the disabled. This needs to change he said.

He urged persons with disabilities to discover the area they are good at, and to push themselves and to work towards achieving their goals. “The key thing is how you adjust to life after the fact. There is no pity party in all of this. Whatever you have, work with it.”

He underscored the need to have strong, positive persons as part of a support system. “You can’t have negative people around you. They will pull you down and you won’t get anywhere.”

St. Claire Henry is currently the IT Administrator at the GATE Training Facility (Information Technology Cadet Program) and a hardware technician at the Government Information Technology Center. He lauded the support of his mother and aunts, “who never looked at me as having a disability but just told me to go and do what you have to do,” as well as his work colleagues.

He also praised the designers of his workplace.” When it was designed, someone thought about accessibility for persons with disabilities, especially in the case of the bathrooms. “Someone had the vision,” he reminded. Perhaps a plea for the future.

The ‘I AM ABLE’ Conference convenes Monday, 4th December to Wednesday, 6th December 2017, at the St. James’s Club and will form part of the Disability Awareness Week of Activities 2017.

The Conference will attract local, regional and international participants and will focus on four main areas – access to Education, Employment, Political Participation, and Health. The three-day capacity building and public awareness campaign will also aim to create a roadmap for promoting, protecting and monitoring the rights of People with Disabilities, especially those of young people with disabilities.

The ‘I AM ABLE’ Conference is a collaborative initiative between the Ministry of Health & the Environment, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Social Transformation and Public Education in conjunction with the Antigua and Barbuda High Commission (London) and the Commonwealth Youth Council.

The Commonwealth Youth Council will hold a Youth Forum at the Antigua State College on 1st December, just prior to the start of the ‘I AM ABLE’ Conference.

For further Information, please contact:

Ms. Valarie Williams, ‘I AM ABLE’ Local Conference Chair – (268) 464-5097

Ms. Ideka Dowe, Project Coordinator, Antigua and Barbuda High Commission - +44 7748 208088…ideka.dowe@antigua-barbuda.com

Ms. Janelle Charles-Williams, ‘I AM ABLE’ Conference Public Relations Liaison – (268) 720-6320

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