Disabled get short shrift in VI

Comprehensive reform is urgently needed in order to protect the rights of the disabled in the Virgin Islands.

Unfortunately, the territory currently falls far short of international standards in this regard.

Residents and visitors with almost any cognitive or physical disability face major challenges here: inadequate infrastructure; limited access to many public buildings; an unaccommodating education system; scant employment opportunities; and general discrimination, to name a few.

Faced with such difficulties, some disabled residents have moved away, and disabled tourists often avoid the VI altogether.

In a territory as prosperous as this one, this state of affairs is unacceptable.

New legislation would be a good first step toward reform, as activists have argued for years. Though the 2007 Constitution prohibits discrimination against the disabled, the VI has no law dedicated to protecting their rights.

Moving forward, then, leaders should work quickly to pass legislation similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States and the Equality Act in the United Kingdom, both of which are wide-ranging and sound.

The groundwork is already in place here: A policy has been drafted that officials say will guide the creation of such legislation in the future, and elected leaders in the current and former administrations have touted their commitment to the cause.

But activists say they have heard such assurances for years, with precious little action. The process should be fast-tracked, and a law should be passed as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, a long-term strategy should be devised to map the way forward and help guide the well-meaning reform initiatives that are currently on the table: inclusion learning; a new Autism Centre; building code revision; and strategies to make Road Town more navigable, to name a few.

Ultimately, though, a change in attitude is needed at all levels of society. From the home to the street to the classroom, the needs of the disabled should be recognised and respected as a matter of course.

Activists, many of whom have a personal stake in the matter, have been trumpeting this message for decades. It is time for the rest of the community to listen.