The Office of the Special Envoy and UNICEF host first Regional Partnership Conference for Children w

The Office of the Special Envoy, with technical and financial support from UNICEF Belize hosted the first ever Regional Partnership Conference for Children with Disabilities Conference under the theme “Breaking Barriers for an Inclusive Society and Empowerment for Children with Disabilities” on October 13th and 14th, 2016 at the Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina in Belize City. The aim of the conference was to highlight issues affecting children with disabilities, exchange best practices at regional level and re-commit to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The two-day conference kicked off with an early morning walk entitled “Walk With Us!” from the Radisson Fort George Pier to the MCC Grounds followed by an inclusive mixed team football match with members of Special Olympics Belize and Belize’s Baby Jaguars. Both events were coordinated to promote an environment that inspires acceptance, inclusion, solidarity and enjoyment for all. A short opening ceremony was held where the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, Dr. Einstein Bodden and UNICEF Country Representative, Mr. Ivan Yerovi addressed the multi-sector audience. “We have had our successes, but there is still much to do in terms of creating an enabling and inclusive environment. Things like making public buildings and spaces wheelchair accessible; universal screening and detection of disabilities in newborns and infants; capacity building for service providers, including teachers; adequate coverage of rehabilitation, care and support services are very much works in progress for us” Mrs. Barrow stated. In total, 36 per cent of children aged 2 to 9 are at risk of having one or more disabilities whether physical, auditory, visual or learning (MICS 2011). Children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized and excluded groups in society. Facing daily discrimination in the form of negative attitudes, lack of adequate policies and legislation, their disabilities place them at a higher risk of physical abuse, and often exclude them from receiving proper nutrition or humanitarian assistance in emergencies. The conference saw the participation of the Spouse of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, H.E. Mrs. Juliet Holness, the First Lady of Guyana, H.E. Mrs. Sandra Granger, and other international presenters who shared insights into issues affecting children with disabilities and work being done in their respective countries to tackle these issues. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber participated in the high-level panel discussion alongside Organizational Development Consultant, Special Olympics North America, Ms. Maureen Webber, H.E. Mrs. Sandra Granger and a child with a disability, Alexander Garbutt Jr. The plenary discussions and Q&A segments after each session generated fruitful discussions and burning questions related to appropriate facilities, government regulations and treatment evaluations, for persons with disabilities. The discussions and presentations ended with a call to action for the region outlining the way forward in the following key areas: legislative reform, education and health. Proposed steps include increasing the government allocation for state services, capturing critical data on persons with disabilities to inform action, continued capacity

building for educators and medical professionals, and creating specific training and employment opportunities to enable persons with disabilities to thrive.

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