The Face of the Disability Rights Movement in Barbados


I had the good fortune to be one of two Canadians asked to work as a resource person for a twoÄweek media literacy workshop held in Barbados. It was co-sponsored by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Barbados National Organization of the Disabled (BARNOD). Representatives of consumer organizations from 15 countries throughout the Caribbean gathered for a very intense two weeks. The meetings were designed to offer delegates better tools with which to work with the media.

Topics included everything from the best practices for effective newspaper layout and editorial writing, to how to design your own newspaper, to what you should say in letters to the editor when their publications portray people with disabilities in an inappropriate way. Participants also engaged in some news and creative writing exercises. And if that were not enough, the local organizers made sure that the group had tours of TV/radio stations and the island’s daily newspaper offices.

Everyone agreed that the workshop was helpful. Discussions and activities, combined with guest speakers from various media backgrounds and areas of expertise, came together to provide a most informative and useful workshop. Many delegates said that they were ready to return home, re-double their media awareness efforts, and get their own publications off the ground.

As I reflect on my Barbados experience, I find it difficult to convey the sense of solidarity that we came to share. Perhaps a taste of it can be expressed through the story of a fellow participant.

Let’s call him John. He comes from a small island in the Eastern Caribbean. He is not a very well educated man, nor was he particularly outspoken at our meetings. He seemed uncomfortable expressing himself on paper and in words. When we first came together, he spent much of his time away from the meeting room alone; he ate his meals by himself, and then stayed in his room. He seemed to feel that he did not have much to say in circumstances in which so many others did.

But by the end of the first week, John was eating with other delegates and talking to us about his views on the meetings. He was also beginning to share a little of himself. By the end of our time together, John was speaking out during the meetings and asking guest speakers tough questions. He showed that he had a good sense of humour and a wise outlook on life. It was clear that he had gained confidence in himself and in his opinions, and that he had drawn strength from the support of others who had life experiences similar to his.

So when I remember my experience in Barbados, my recollections take the form of John’s face. He really benefited from the workshop, not just through his increased understanding of the media, but through his increased understanding of his own role and importance.

It seems to me that in many ways, John’s face is a symbol of the Disability Rights Movement all over the world. We all draw strength from one another; we all start out kind of quiet and alone, maybe feeling like we don’t have that much to contribute. But when we come together, we begin to see that we do have things to say, that our views are important and that we should express them. It is from such experiences that one can gain a real appreciation of the value of a workshop like the one in Barbados: the value embodied in the development of an under-standing that we all have an important role to play in the struggle for better lives for people with disabilities everywhere.

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