Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yes We Can! Oh No We Can't.

When I think of disabilities, I have a very wide definition in my head. However, I imagine that other people think mostly of those who are unable to walk (at all or well); the blind and partially sighted; the deaf or hard of hearing; those who have mental problems (from the thoroughly insane to those who have acute mental difficulties, such as the autistic, that make it hard for them to cope with the rest of society); and those who have speech impediments (who cannot talk or talk with problems such as a stammer); and so on. Some of us will also think of persons such as those who suffer from dyslexia. I am not trying to be exhaustive, as I understand the list could be very long if one regards a disability as a condition or function judged to be significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual or group. So, if you are far away from the norm you qualify. It's ironic that President Obama has popularised the phrase "Yes, we can!". In many respects, he is one who could be said to suffer from a disability, being a left-handed person in a world of right-handed people. He struggled to find people to teach him how to write because he was one of the rare group: physically able, but backward when compared to others. "Yes, he could, but with difficulties." I remember the first time I saw a right-handed friend trying to use a standard potato peeler--impossible; now, he could buy a left handed peeler.

Those who fall into such categories have a hard time fitting in. Or, maybe it is better to say that those who do not fall into such categories have a hard time accommodating those whom we see as disabled (or less able, or 'challenged' in some way, if one seeks some sort of politically correct adjective).

If you walk around and just try to figure out how people who are not normal, or standard, can cope, it is not hard to wonder how they can get through a day. Go to store or almost any building here in Barbados. Does it have a ramp for those who cannot step up? Is there any sign in Braille or with an audio function for those who cannot see? Imagine a blind person trying to use an ATM machine. Once you can see the slot for your card you can figure out how it should be inserted. Once inside the booth are the keys fitted with Braille? If you want to make a deposit how do you do that if you cannot see or read the instructions that come on the screen? And so on. I was crossing the road to school last week and after pressing the button at the traffic light to allow me to cross, I realised that unlike in many countries there was no sound to tell me that it was time to cross. I started off carefully as I saw three lanes of traffic stop but noticed a fourth lane with a car hurtling on. I waited in the middle as the driver sped through the red light. Oh, I was so glad that I was not blind and somehow just stepped on the crossing regardless of danger.

Some would say that the world as designed by normal people cannot cope with everyone who is not standard issue. True enough. Most people don't care until they start to have problems themselves when trying to do something simple.

As I try to teach my daughter to read and write, I'm glad as she starts to cope with recognizing letters and form and say them in a way that is familiar. As she starts to recognize words on signs, I can breathe an inner sigh of relief that I will not have to deal with a child who may need to learn differently. I had that sigh pushed back down my throat as I spoke yesterday to a friend whose granddaughter has now been diagnosed as dyslexic. Now, that child's inability with reading while coping well with arithmetic has some basis. The child was not being difficult or lazy, as she could often be labelled. She could not understand. But, what to do next? Special school? Special teacher? Deal with it at home?

In Washington DC, every road intersection has a slope so that anyone who is in a wheel chair can cross easily. In Germany, every road crossing at a traffic light has a sound signal. Is it only richer countries that will spend to cater in this way?

Once your good faculties start to falter you start to understand what some have had to deal with for a very long time.

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