As we embark upon a new year, the long promised Disability Act still eludes us. Several stakeholder workshops have been hosted where promises were made, but all we have is a disabled policy document that is a good start but lacks the teeth of sound legislation.

As though that was not bad enough, we have an Equal Opportunity Act (EOA) that says discrimination is unacceptable unless it is discrimination against a disabled person.

The EOA says in sections 8 to 10 that “employers shall not discriminate against a person in the arrangements he makes for the purpose of determining who should be offered employment;” access to promotions; and employment training.

But in Section 14 the ECA says, “Sections 8 to 10 shall not apply to the employment of a person with a disability.” The EOA then stipulates that if in order to carry out the requirements of a job disabled individuals “…require services or facilities that are not required by persons without a disability and the provision of which would impose an unjustifiable hardship;” the employer is not required to accommodate that disabled employee.

Now let me hasten to add that there is no fair-minded disabled person who would want any employer to have any hardship justifiable or unjustifiable imposed upon his company. On the other hand, the language does not even entertain the notion of reasonable accommodation of a person with a disability. The Equal Opportunity Act leaves the disabled naked and unprotected from unrestrained discrimination.

- Section 18 of The EOA also permits discrimination against persons with disabilities in education. The same hardship language from Section 14 is used to justify disability discrimination in the education section as well.

This language in the EOA legislation is mocking, offensive and embarrassing. Isn’t it rather ironic and sad that Disability only shows up in T&T legislation in two instances: to distribute welfare and to legalize discrimination against the disabled thanks to, of all things, the Equal Opportunity Act?

I wish that someone can tell me that I am wrong on this point. Maybe I will get a letter from the Attorney General’s office or the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC)that says that there was some revision of the EOA legislation that I overlooked.

Maybe I should not be surprised after reading the Mandate of the EOC. Its mandate as quoted from the EOC website (www.equalopportunity.gov.tt/eoc) says, “To prevent certain kinds of discrimination…” Looks like disability was not one of the types of discrimination that the EOA was intended to prevent.

Are there any disabled persons on the Commission? I am sure that we in the disabled community know the answer. A non-disabled person who has worked in the disabled community cannot be a disabled representative by definition. Sorry!

If we don’t get disability legislation disabled people will have to continue to depend on the mercy, sympathy, whim and fancy of decision makers to provide us with special accommodations and support services that we need to have a fighting chance to be fully integrated in the society and national economy.

Following are some examples of the frustrations that disabled people encounter when they are left unprotected by disability law.

• Prevented from taking public transportation because of a service animal
• Insufficient accommodations in the classroom and workplace
• Inaccessible public buildings and sidewalks
• Disrespect and humiliation at public and private service counters

Trinidad and Tobago signed the UN Convention on Persons with disabilities in 2007. However, it is now 3 years later and it has yet to be ratified by Parliament. But then again how can you ratify a convention that gives the disabled rights that protect us from discrimination, if the Equal Opportunity legislation says that it is legal to discriminate against the disabled? This gives the distinct impression that there really is no serious intention to pass disability legislation.

Maybe our leaders in Parliament will prove me wrong and fix the contradictory language in our laws and pass the Disability Act without delay. We in the disabled community will be watching.