Monday 27 May, 2019

Expert: People with hidden disabilities need respect

The next time you attempt to shame what looks like a perfectly able person for parking in a spot designated for handicaps, you should consider that person may have a disability you cannot see.

Dr Lenisa Joseph, a Development and Early Intervention Specialist, said you can’t always tell someone has a disability by looking at them.

Speaking at the Hidden Disabilities Conference hosted by the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI), Dr Joseph said we should not shame people for using the blue spots for parking or the handicap toilet in bathrooms as they may be dealing with hidden disabilities.

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Defined as disabilities that are not immediately apparent, hidden disabilities include disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, dyslexia, cystic fibrosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Dr Joseph stressed that hidden disabilities are not rare and everyone has some kind of disability.

Speaking on the subject: ‘Situating Hidden Disabilities in the Local Context”, Dr Joseph examined disabilities in the context of the country’s laws.

Noting that there is no law dealing with disabled people just a policy, the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, Dr Joseph said there are three laws ˗ the Children’s Act, the Equal Opportunities Act and the Education Act ˗ which educators, coaches and anyone dealing with children with disabilities need to know.

Stressing that we need to approach each person with the dignity of their person, Dr Joseph said under the Education Act, in particular, schools cannot turn away anyone with a disability.

“That is an infringement of the law,” she said, noting that she deals with parents who complain about their children being denied enrolment because of their disabilities.

“We need to encourage Principals to measure success by how inclusive we are, how socially responsible we are to our brothers and sisters,” she said.

Speaking on the same topic, Dr Launcelot Brown, a Professor and Department Chair at the Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, USA, said in Trinidad and Tobago too much emphasis is placed on a child’s evaluative strength which is creating an environment that is threatening to children with hidden disabilities.

Recounting his own experiences growing up in Trinidad following his mother’s death when he was six, Dr Brown said caring teachers who took an interest in his development made a difference as he was a troubled child.

“How you respond to the child can make the child blossom or make them more hidden, result in a loss of self-esteem and they will never be comfortable enough to access opportunities to learn,” he said.  

The two-day conference featured speakers such as Archbishop Dr Jason Gordon who spoke about his battle with dyslexia, Dr David Bratt, Paediatrician and Special Education Advocate, Kitts Cadette, Principal of Eshe's Learning Centre and Dr Tim Conway, Neuro-psychologist and educator of the Morris Center Clinics in Florida and T&T.

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