Children with Disabilities (CWD) continue to struggle for inclusion in a modern society that is facing global challenges. The lack of finance, the lack of empathy and compassion by the general public, and the lack of willpower and policy enforcement by public officers and some private sector entities are some of the main factors that have led to the systematic sidelining of Children With Disabilities in Dominica.
However, the problem in all of this is Climate Change. It has exacerbated the issues that affect CWDs. In many cases, Children With Disabilities in Dominica suffered and were further marginalised because of Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 and Hurricane Maria in 2017.
This led to damaged schools and the deterioration of an already struggling public transportation system, which hindered access for Children With Disabilities to educational institutions and medical care providers.
There are three learning institutions that cater to the educational needs of CWDs in Dominica: the Achievement Learning Centre in Canefield, The Alpha Centre in Goodwill, and The Isulukati Special Needs School in the Kalinago Territory. Another major institution that specialises in care for CWDs is Parents Advocating For Children With Disabilities in Society (PACIS).
How Climate Change Affects Children With Disabilities in Dominica
Human Rights and Special Education Consultant Beverly Leblanc laments the sidelining of Children with Disabilities after weather disasters. She says, “When there is damage to infrastructure, the government will focus on ‘the normal students.'”
Climate Change contributes to migration issues and causes the displacement of affected people. Leblanc says, “If students have to be displaced or sent overseas, the normal students will go, but those with disabilities—where are you going to send them too?”
Climate disasters also have a detrimental effect on the health of children with disabilities, as they often lose access to crucial medical treatments and other essential healthcare services.
Indeed, it is a well-established fact that major fossil fuel-based nations significantly contribute to the intensification of climate change, fully aware of the detrimental impact these actions have on vulnerable communities, such as children with disabilities in Dominica. Consequently, these communities face challenges meeting their fundamental needs for clean water and food.
The pressing question remains: when will these territories take accountability for their unwise actions and embrace more significant measures to uphold the commitments they make during COP meetings, specifically to reduce their CO2 emissions?
Climate Justice Solutions for CWDs who experience the negative impacts of Climate Change
Despite the adverse consequences inflicted upon Children With Disabilities in Dominica due to human-induced changes in the climate, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of implementing climate justice solutions to bring positive impacts and benefits to the CWD community.
Head of Programmes and Projects at Circle and Friends, Ivy Yorke Benjamin, provided a first-hand experience of the effectiveness of hybrid teaching. The teaching incorporates virtual and physical learning techniques after climatic disasters. Yorke says that this ensures Children With Disabilities are not marginalised from educational opportunities after natural disasters.
President of PACIS, Ainsworth Irish, is championing the creation and operation of more learning institutions specifically catered for the nurturing and advancement of CWDs. He says, “Certainly, I think what we need is some more schools for children, and you know, these children, they really have the challenges, and they need people to train them.”
A new approach is needed for Policy-based Solutions to resolve the challenges faced by CWDs
Dominica boasts a reasonably sound policy framework on paper for the protection of Children With Disabilities. However, real challenges arise when it comes to enforcement and implementation. For instance, Yorke shared that a National Action Plan specifically targeting Climate Change-induced Illnesses faced by CWDs was crafted around nine years ago, yet its effective implementation remains a concern.
Likewise, UNESCO submitted a Universal Periodic Review on Dominica in 2019. It was a joint submission from the United Nations Subregional Team for Barbados and the OECS.
To date, these policies have not been adopted by the government; there is no national policy specified for the social and economic development of People With Disabilities here; however, general laws exist.
During the launching ceremony of the DAPD 2020/2024 Strategic, Social, and Personal Development Programme, which took place on August 30th, 2020, Nathalie Murphy, the former Executive Director of the Dominica Association of Persons with Disabilities (DAPD), urged the Central Government to create and implement a Disability Act to provide enhanced assistance to individuals with disabilities. Regrettably, this call has not yet materialised into reality.
From a policy standpoint, there is a need to amend and improve existing legislation for the protection and development of People With Disabilities. Relevant authorities must draft, implement policies and initiate programmes which foster inclusive climate adaptations, especially in rural communities. Leaders must ensure that PWDs are included in the decision-making of the community and in future projects that address the changes in their community.
A Plea For Donor Agencies To Aid NGOs In Dominica That Improve The Lives Of CWDs
Irish is calling on donor agencies to provide assistance to PACIS and other NGOs such as The Achievement Learning Centre, and The Isulakati Special Needs School. “PACIS, as we cater for these Children With Disabilities in our society, we would be happy if any donor agency can come on board and help us,” he said.
According to Irish, PACIS is a Non-Profit organisation that, since late last year, has not received its usual annual subsidy from the government. This has led to the closure of the entire facility and the services it offered to children with disabilities in the North of the island. Irish laments that in recent times the Government-based subvention has dropped by over 60%.
Meanwhile, Francis is calling on all leaders of the Kalinago Territory, inclusive of the Kalinago Chief, Lorenzo Sanford, to show more care and interest in aiding the development and educational needs of CWDs, as well as to support the initiatives of the Isulakati School for Special Education.
While acknowledging that some infrastructural changes have been made at a national level to support People with Disabilities during disasters, it is crucial to recognise that much more must be accomplished to establish an enabling environment for the educational, economic, mobility, and medical development of CWDs.
Climate Tracker firmly believes that both the Private Sector and the central government must be proactive in ensuring that all nationally implemented programmes undergo inclusive assessments of “technical, operational, personnel, and financial” resources. This approach will lead to a fair distribution of resources, which can significantly contribute to poverty alleviation within the disabled community. By adopting such a policy and implementation strategy, many of the Climate Change-induced challenges faced by Children With Disabilities can be effectively addressed.
“This story was published with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations and this story is supported by the Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network.”