The National Youth with Disabilities Conference has concluded with a collective plea from participants, advocating for active participation in leadership positions and a significant push for amended legislation aimed at fostering greater inclusivity.
The annual conference was implemented in partnership with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Approximately 54 young persons with disabilities from across Guyana were in attendance and engaged in discussions relating to the current disability landscape in Guyana and the necessary improvements required to positively impact the lives of persons with disabilities.
The contents of their declaration highlight the pertinent areas in which young persons with disabilities would like changes to be made.
Five core areas make up the declaration in keeping with the objectives of the conference.
It outlines that Persons with Disabilities who possess the necessary qualifications should be encouraged to be a part of the legislative, judicial, and executive arms of Government and any barriers that hinder this process be removed.
Secondly, it calls for The Local Authority (Elections) Act, Chapter 28:03 to be amended to remove Section 40 (2), which bars persons with disabilities who receive public assistance from running for local government office.
Another speaks to the revision of relevant legislation to promote independent accessible voting for persons with disabilities and all administrative measures implemented by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to promote accessible and inclusive voting for persons with disabilities.
Youths with disabilities also sounded the need to be represented on the President’s Youth Advisory Council and all other similar bodies and be meaningfully engaged by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.
They added that Government Ministries and agencies should have a disability inclusion policy to guide the delivery of service and accommodation of persons with disabilities.
“Persons with disabilities should be consulted and their needs incorporated in all disaster preparedness and response policies and plans that include disability-specific evacuation measures. There should be more research in the area of climate change and the impact on the population of persons with disabilities,” the participants highlighted.
Meanwhile, the group lobbied for a special programme to facilitate improved food security among the disabled community through the promotion of sustainable farming and the provision of planting materials, equipment and technical support.
“There should be the provision of food vouchers/stamps to those persons with disabilities who are financially challenged to facilitate their food security,” they advised.Employment
In the area of employment, the declaration mentioned the need to amend the Guyana Disability Act to increase the penalties for employers who discriminate against employees with disabilities and strengthen the reporting mechanism for cases of discrimination; exempt persons with disabilities from paying PAYE or income tax if their income is below $2,400,000 per year; and encourage private sector to employ qualified and skilled persons with disabilities through the granting of tax concessions and other special concessions.
“There should be mandatory disability sensitivity training sessions for employers and staff on disability rights, non-discrimination, and reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. Ensure all Government agencies budget to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.”
In public agencies and Ministries, the group is calling for the employee roster to have a minimum of five per cent of persons with disabilities if they employ more than 20 persons. Another recommendation suggested special job fairs targeting persons with disabilities.
The relevant legislation and policies including the Guyana Disability Act should be amended and strengthened to ensure that all public buildings are fully accessible for all persons with disabilities, with strict enforcement and timelines for implementation, the Council agreed.
This should include ramps, elevators, wide doorways, corridors, and accessible washrooms along with the provision of modified infrastructure to ensure accessibility in compliance with the Universal Design.
“Traffic signals, pedestrian crossings and other similar systems should be retrofitted or made accessible to accommodate persons with disabilities. There should be a special accessible transportation service to transport persons with disabilities at a subsidised cost in the absence of a structured public transportation provider or system. All information for public dissemination should be accessible to persons who are deaf, persons who are blind and persons with learning disabilities. Additionally, all websites should be accessible in compliance with the international guidelines,” the recommendations stated.