There's need for an accurate database on persons living with disabilities Viewpoint
By Evelyne Hamilton
Guyana Chronicle
December 3, 2003

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TODAY, Guyana like many other countries throughout the world, is observing International Day of Disabled Persons.

While on this day there is a special focus on the disabled, it is important to remember, in the words of James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank that "the issue of persons living with disabilities must not be episodic but should be an integral part of any discussions on education, health, economic development, etc." In his view the inclusion of this large population is a matter of centrally not one of luxury. The National Commission on Disability (NCD) in Guyana shares this view.

The NCD is a presidential commission with representation from a wide range of organizations. Ministries of Education, Health, Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Foreign Affairs and Legal Affairs, the Private Sector, the Trade Union Congress, Guyana Human Rights Association as well as several disability organizations such as the Community Based Rehabilitation Programme. The Commission has agreed that its mission is "to work towards the identification and progressive enhancement of those conditions at the national level, which would serve to ensure, that people with disabilities lead full and productive lives." In fulfilling its mission, the commission has included in its strategic plans the following activities:

1. to set standards within which stakeholders operate in developing programmes, services and technology in the field;

2. to act as a co-coordinating body among stakeholders; and

3. To ensure that skilled well connected people are in a leadership role with regards to dealing with disability issues.

In order to do these things and generally, in order to grapple with the problems of persons living with disabilities and to be able to plan for and monitor and evaluate any improvements in their status, Guyana needs to develop and maintain an accurate date base. On an international scale, it is estimated that there are 600 million disabled persons, this is seen to be an underestimation by many experts in the filed because of the poor data available dated back to a limited survey carried out by the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) in 1981. This survey shoed that the incidence of disability in the six areas surveyed was nearly 4 per cent and in some areas considered as socio-economically depressed areas it was almost 5 per cent. The survey also indicated that the most prevalent disabilities were visual a physical.

The nee fro hard date would appear to be obvious. It is difficult and inefficient to plan for the reduction in the number of the disabled if we do not know what are the major causes. It would appear that more persons acquire disabilities than are born with them. Is this the result of traffic accidents or diseases? Can these disabilities be prevented with early and regular screening if it is due to some health factor? Are those persons with disabilities receiving the assistance that they need to help them to live full and productive lies? How many children with disabilities have access to schooling? How many of them can be mainstreamed, that is, to be educated along with other children the Ministry of Education could better make plans for disabled students if it has some clear idea of the scope and extent of the problem. The same is true of the Ministry of Health in terms of the provision of health and rehabilitative services and the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security in terms of providing, if necessary social assistance and helping the disabled to find jobs.

What can organizations and the general public do to help create and maintain this database? The disability organizations can help by gathering and maintaining data on their particular set of stakeholders. Ministries of health and education should create and maintain their own databases. The police provide data on persons acquiring disabilities through accidents and through crime, etc. and families can ensure that their relatives with disabilities are not shut away but are sent to school whenever possible are allowed to take part in community activities and are registered with one or other of the many organizations for persons living with disabilities.

There are many plans and activities that must be implemented if we are to improve the lot of the disabled. Many of these may be more visible and would appear to have a more direct impact but all of these plans and activities would be enhanced if they were planned on the basis of good data.