Progressive Labour Party MP Tinee Furbert used her maiden speech in the House of Assembly on Friday to focus on enhancing the quality of life for persons with disabilities.
The Junior Minister of Disability Affairs said disabilities were consistently excluded when people talk about human rights.
Ms Furbert, who served as a senator before her victory at the polls in St George’s South on July 18, said: “I have heard from many people with disabilities in Bermuda who are discriminated against for job and learning opportunities, or people in our community who feel they are not worthy of inclusion when they can’t even interpret the local news because there is no closed caption, or they are not afforded the opportunity for an interpreter to help them communicate their needs to a police officer.
“I have heard from parents of children with disabilities who are excluded on decisions being made for their children when they should have every say.
“And I’ve heard from people saying access to entrances and exits of buildings or homes keep them captive.”
Ms Furbert highlighted that yesterday marked the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, with this year’s theme being “transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all”.
She added: “The 2030 UN agenda is to leave no one behind. Persons with disabilities as both beneficiaries and agents of change, can fast track the process towards inclusive and sustainable development and promote a resilient society for all. It is my hope Bermuda can move in the same way.”
Ms Furbert added: “I want us to get in the habit of including disabilities and not in ways that I have witnessed in this house by calling fellow members slow, or retarded or hearing-impaired.
“I do not take that language lightly. In fact I find it offensive to those who through no fault of their own, experience cognitive disabilities or are hard of hearing.
“To even those who consistently park in the disabled parking bays right on this very grounds, stop it.”
She said people with disabilities deserve respect and acceptance.
Ms Furbert added: “We must value those with disabilities as valuable members in our societies as they open our eyes and make a better life for everyone.”
She said the Government had made a concerted effort to include persons with disabilities.
Furbert, who is an occupational therapist, added: “We need to continue to enhance the quality of life for persons with disabilities and we can do this by collecting current data on persons with disabilities, improving the home school community structural environment, improving social wellbeing, improving rehabilitation opportunities, managing hobbies and activities, improving education and work opportunities, adopting the convention on rights of persons with disabilities, businesses designating staff members to look out for persons with disabilities, and creating disability policies in the workplace.”
More important, she said, is creating legislation for disability rights.
“Right now, accommodations are made out of the kindness of people’s hearts. But people aren’t always kind and we have to tick that box that says must and not should.”
Ms Furbert added that “disabilities are not going away” and that whether temporary or permanent, congenital or acquired, disabilities “will affect us sometime across our lifespan”.
She also spoke about her life growing up and her mother’s depression and addiction.
Ms Furbert said: “Depression is what she developed from her experience of being abused as a child and young lady and not feeling worthy enough, and addiction was her coping mechanism.
“Her children were her first love and mind-altering became her second, but disguised as her first.”
Ms Furbert spoke about how she was “blessed with enough funds through scholarships and loans to start and complete college”, and how she took her sisters in at the age of 24.
She added that her mother, who died during the week of the Pathway to Status protests, “would be so proud to know that people stood on that hill representing people like her”.
“She would even be more elated to know that her daughter is now the first occupational therapist to serve as part of this legislature in Bermuda.”
Ms Furbert thanked all her constituents, colleagues, family and friends who played a role in her election victory and
continue to be her support network.
She also thanked David Burt, the Premier, for giving people with disabilities and those who work with people with disabilities hope for change.
Mr Furbert added: “I get calls daily for help and resources, for directions, for navigation with the disabled population.
“I will continue to be an advocate for people because this is how the election was won.”