Woman in a wheelchair in a classroom

Irene Phiri uses a wheelchair to get around the National Rehabilitation Centre in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, where she is a student. Her wheelchair, which was carefully fitted to her individual needs, was provided by the Jairos Jiri Association with support from CBM-US.


Rev. Dr Gordon Earls Cowans, regional coordinator of World Council Churches Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (WCC-EDAN) in the Caribbean, said more societies have become aware of the needs and particular gifts of persons with disabilities.

One would say there is clear evidence persons with disabilities are more visible in our societies and the level of acceptance of disability has not been much of a problem,” said Cowans in an interview after a two-day training conference on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD).

From the position of the church, EDAN strengthens the view that we are each living in the image of God and persons with disabilities are to be valued for their wholeness, even if some are in broken bodies.”

Officials said the training focused on the CPRD and other legal instruments in use in the Caribbean due to the urgent need to increase the advocacy capacity among persons with disabilities.

 “We focused on the CRPD because, of course, we know a better understanding of the organs of the United Nations assists advocates to be much more engaged in local, regional, and international spheres,” said Cowans, a former moderator of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. We find that it is constantly necessary to be increasing the sense of and strengthening the knowledge base of persons with disabilities and helping specifically the young, and not necessarily the young, to look forward to possibly an improved environment.”

Urgent…yet complex

At the training held in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, from 7-8 December, church workers and persons with disabilities sat together to explore the human rights of persons with disabilities covered by the convention.

According to the training resources, discrimination of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean is widespread. Advocating for all human rights for all persons with disabilities is urgent yet very complex.

The aim of the training is to build a pool of activists who are equipped to engage in action to challenge large-scale systemic discrimination.

Emilio Neas, coordinator of National Coalition of Associations of Disabled People in Haiti, underlined that the training had strengthened the participants' understanding of the UN Convention and other legal tools for defending their human rights.

With this training, members of organizations of persons with disabilities will be able to better engage in the movement for the rights of people with disabilities in Caribbean countries,” said Neas. They [have been] equipped to interact with government authorities; technical, and financial partners; and even other actors in civil society in order to build an inclusive society.”

The official listed the challenges persons with disabilities face in the Caribbean, including lack of access to basic social services, such as health, employment, justice, education, and inaccessibility of establishments housing public services, among others.

 “Caribbean countries are still exposed to the risks of disasters and humanitarian emergencies. But in situations of crisis and humanitarian emergencies, people with disabilities are left aside and are not taken into account,” he said.

At the start of the training, Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame, chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a member of the WCC Commission on Mission and Evangelism used simple examples to illustrate how persons with disabilities are disadvantaged.

When people are under a tree, we are all there, but dont leave us when others are going to the classroom,” she said. When I get an opportunity to be in the classroom, I am without tools and a teacher, so we are not equal.”

Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN)