Blindness Awareness Month 2011
“Visually-impaired workers-Talent sees no boundaries.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s May, and it’s Blindness Awareness Month. A very busy month for the Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association as it concentrates its energies on sensitizing the public on its programmes, its projects and its relentless efforts to prevent blindness and vision impairment, to provide support for the visually-challenged and to advocate on their behalf. The observance of the Month this year centres around the theme “Visually-impaired workers-Talent sees no boundaries.” A very poignant reminder that visual impairment does not translate to helplessness, uselessness, or complete absence of all potential or talent. Indeed, if we would only pause for a moment to think of the creativity and the wealth of talent which reside in many visually-challenged persons, both here at home, and beyond our shores, we will readily agree that talent sees no boundaries. It is in this regard that the Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association is challenging the nation, from this year onwards, to create employment opportunities for persons whose sight cannot be restored. Indeed, we only need to be reminded that the right to work is enshrined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 23(1) of the Declaration reads:
“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of
employment, to just and favourable conditions of
work and to protection against unemployment.”
The Association’s primary goal in this sensitization programme is to educate employers and the public about the abilities and talents of blind and visually-impaired persons so that they could be incorporated into the workforce. Stevie Wonder reminds us that just because a man lacks the use of his eyes does not mean that he lacks vision. Our own Jessica Jacobie hopes that employers and fellow employees will be more open-minded and so reduce the level of what many blind and visually impaired persons have termed discrimination in the workplace. I therefore strongly encourage the Human Resource managers and labour union personnel who will be approached by the Association to participate in the sensitization workshops which are being planned. It can be so easy to be tempted to put boundaries on the potential or abilities of persons with disabilities by arguing that they are not up to the task at hand. An appreciation of their abilities as well as empathy for the challenges that blind and visually impaired people face in coping with the most basic things in life will give employers and human resource managers a better understanding of their responsibility towards matching the talents, competencies and abilities of the unsighted with opportunities or positions within their organizations.
There is a tendency to associate blindness and visual impairment with age, and so conclude that the persons affected are either nearing retirement age, or have actually retired. But the figures released by the Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association regarding its Kids Insight Programme, its Adjustment to Blindness Programme and its Eye Care Saint Lucia Programme reveal a high incidence of visual impairment among children and persons between the ages of 20– 40. One can only imagine then what the implications could be for providing employment opportunities for the growing number of visually challenged people of working age. Moreover, the growth of the Association’s Itinerant Programme which gives support to students with vision impairment attending regular schools will undoubtedly result in many more of them achieving in the academic, technical and vocational streams, and justifiably expecting to access employment opportunities commensurate with their qualifications. It is an issue that both the public and the private sector must seriously start to address. The Association’s decision to undertake this sensitization initiative is therefore both timely and welcomed.
The Association’s second goal for this year as it relates to the labour force is to promote eye health among workers in the country by carrying out sensitisation sessions and vision assessments with various labour unions and organizations. Through its persistent advocacy, it has been successful in its mission to have the Ministry of Health declare eye health as one of twelve national health priorities. The eye health priorities themselves are cataract, glaucoma, refraction error, low vision and childhood blindness. While the eye health programme has been on-going for many years the Association in keeping with this year’s theme is undertaking to bring the message to the workers of the country in their workplace environment, so that all can be apprised of the nature and extent of the interventions aimed at addressing the eye health needs of Saint Lucia and the Vision 2020 mission of eliminating all forms of avoidable blindness by the year 2020. It will be instructive to all to learn of the work of the Blind Welfare Association in the areas of
· eye health promotion ;
· in-house vision assessments ;
· low-vision assessments ;
· nurses vision assessment training ;
· teacher eye-screening training ;
· Kids Insight Project ;
· School eye-screening ;
· General public sensitisation and awareness ;
· Inclusive Education’s Itinerant Programme ; and its
· Programme for multi-disabled Children with Visual Impairment.
Indeed, one would be hard-pressed indeed to find anyone in Saint Lucia who is not affected by any of these situations or who has not benefited from the interventions and programmes of the Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association. Again, I strongly urge every worker in this country to attend these sensitisation sessions when they are scheduled in your workplace. You will be glad you did.
The Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association is a dynamic Association which through perseverance and relentless efforts of its membership in partnership with men and women of good will in the words of its Interim President, Dr. Horatius Jeffers, has engineered a paradigm shift in the perceptions, attitudes and thinking of the society towards blindness, vision impairment and disabilities in general. Fighting against great odds and with limited resources, the Association has become the vehicle for the establishment of programmes and interventions designed to include and allow blind and visually impaired persons become productive members of the Saint Lucian community. Ladies and Gentlemen, I invite you to join me in applauding the Board of Directors, the indefatigable Executive Director, Mr. Anthony Avril, and the Staff Members for the tremendous work they have been doing to cater for the country’s eye care needs, for their invaluable contribution as the Centre for information and data collection regarding eye health in Saint Lucia, for all their efforts at reducing the incidence of blindness among the population, and for the lifeline they provide for those whose blindness has been unavoidable and whose sight unfortunately cannot be restored. On their behalf, as Patron, I thank the major contributors and donors who have sustained them over the years, and without whose unerring support they and we, the general public, sighted or unsighted, would not have been where we are today.
As we observe Blindness Awareness Month, let us keep in mind the sobering words of Frank Lloyd Wright
“Brothers and sisters, these successes do not signify the
end of the road ; we have not arrived ; the journey
continues. However, they give us reasons to have faith in
the continuing dream of an inclusive society meeting the
varied employment and other needs of all regardless of
age, gender, visual status and different abilities. And may
we always remember “The thing always happens that you
really believe in ; and the belief in the thing makes it
© 2013 Government of Saint Lucia. All rights reserved.