Social Development Ministry and UWI Optometry Department host Symposium on Independence for the Visually Impaired
May 22, 2017: Minister of Social Development and Family Services, the Honourable Cherrie Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, promised to continue to place focus on persons with disabilities, including persons with visual impairment, with respect to education, training and opportunities for greater employment.
The Minister was speaking at the Symposium, which the Ministry hosted in collaboration with the UWI Optometry Department, for persons with visual impairment entitled: “Independence for the visually impaired.” The Symposium was held on Friday May 19, 2017 at the Amphitheatre A, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Mount Hope. A number of persons representing various civil society organizations which advocate for persons with visual impairment, representatives of Academia, as well as UWI Optometry students, and other Government stakeholder agencies, were in attendance.
During her feature address the Minister expressed the view that, “Independence for persons with visual impairment suggests that the community of visually impaired persons neither wish to be constrained nor treated differently.” Rather, she said, “They want to be provided with the same opportunities that are available and accessible to others,’ i.e., access to skills development, equipment and strategies that will allow them to live life as safely and independently as possible. Minister Crichlow-Cockburn also indicated that, “Germane to the development of a nurturing and enabling society, is the encouragement of a collective response to the needs of persons with visually impairment and persons with disabilities.” The Minister announced that very soon, public consultations will be held on the Draft National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, where the national community will have the opportunity to contribute to the finalization of the document. Attendees were also informed that discussions have commenced with the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development with a view to developing an employment strategy for persons with disabilities.
Also in attendance was Professor Terence Seemungal, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Science UWI, who provided some insights into the Draft National Eye Survey of Trinidad and Tobago (NESTT) Report and some of the work the Department of Optometry has been undertaking to preserve vision for the population. Professor Seemungal extended an invitation to participants to register at the Department for free eye care and anticipated the establishment of a full eye care clinic in the near future.
Health Systems and Services Advisor, Trinidad and Tobago Country Office, PAHO/WHO Dr. Edwin Vincente Bolastig also brought remarks and indicated his organization’s support to rehabilitation strategies, plans, policies and standards related to visual impairment.
Among the presenters were:
1. Dr. Subash Sharma, Head Optometry Programme and Lecturer, who spoke on the work of the UWIs Optometry Department in addressing the issues affecting persons with visual impairment in Trinidad and Tobago;
2. Dr. Anjani Sharma, Consultant in Family Medicine, who spoke on: Diet and Lifestyle diseases that impact vision; and
3. Mr. Kenneth Suratt, Executive Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association, who presented on: Identification of gaps in the social services and other delivery systems.
The session was very interactive. Some of the recommendations made by participants included:
 That more focus be placed on the needs of persons with total visual impairment and developing enabling strategies for this particular grouping;
. That a similar Symposium be held in Tobago to provide opportunities for the persons with visual impairment in Tobago
 More involvement and sensitivity of the business community in providing special discounts and concessions for items like walking canes, talking watches, tactile and braille labelling, audio and voice recognition software.
The Symposium was one of the activities which was held to commemorate Blind Awareness Month, which is also recognized by the Caribbean Council for the Blind - established in 1967, with the aim of ‘giving sight whilst creating opportunities for persons whose sight could not be repaired.’
Visually Impaired Grow System: (2nd from left) The Honorable Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, Minister of Social Development and Family Services congratulates Dr. Subash Sharma, Head, Optometry Programme/Lecturer, the University of the West Indies (2nd from right). They are flanked by Research Assistants of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, the University of the West Indies Romalisa Bonald (left) and Brandon Murphy (right) who were part of the team that conceptualized and built the Visually Impaired Grow System which was developed for visually impaired persons.
Supporting the cause: Dr. Edwin Vincente Bolastig, Health Systems and Services Advisor, Trinidad and Tobago Country Office, PAHO/WHO indicated his organizations’ support to rehabilitation strategies, plans, policies and standards related to visual impairment.
National Extempo Calypso Champion, Joseph Vautor-La “Lingo” Placeliere, providing his contribution during the Symposium.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, Mrs Jacinta Bailey-Sobers (2nd from right) while receives information of the Visually Impaired Grow System which was developed for visually impaired persons. Speaking to PS are Research Assistants of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, the University of the West Indies, (left) Romalisa Bonald, and Brandon Murphy (right) who were part of the team that conceptualized and built the system.
For further information please contact:
The Corporate Communications Unit
Ministry of Social Development and Family Services