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5 December 2013 Samoa Celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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This week is a very busy week in Samoa in the disability community. We are celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD), with a whole week of events, and the Office of the Ombudsman is taking an active role. An Opening Ceremony was held yesterday on the island of Savai’i. Generally, official ceremonies and events are held in the capital Apia, on the island of ‘Upolu. However, the organising committee wanted to ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities in Savai’i for this year’s ceremony, and so it was held in the village of Salealoga. It was well attended, by disability NGOs and service providers, as well as students and staff of special schools from around Samoa. The President of NOLA (Nuanua O le Alofa), a disability advocacy organisation based in Apia, gave an excellent speech about the need of inclusion of persons with disabilities in all fields of life in Samoa. This was in keeping with this year’s IDPwD theme, ‘Break barriers, open doors: to realise an inclusive society for all’. There was a speech competition for young school students, in which they had to speak on breaking barriers for inclusion of PwD. That was followed by a debate between students of Amoa College and the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC), who debated on whether PwD should be treated the same as other people. The debate demonstrated a need for education about PwD, including an understanding of correct terminology (e.g. to not refer to persons without disabilities as ‘normal’ compared to PwD). The Ombudsman, Maiava Iuli Toma, and Human Rights Legal Officer Dr Melanie O’Brien attended. The Ombudsman was appointed to present the prizes for the speech and debating competitions, and had generously donated the first prize for the speech competition.

Other events include the painting of two banners, one on ‘Upolu and one on Savai’i, in order to capture inclusion of PwD and to showcase their abilities. NOLA is also running training for people in Savai’i on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as well as conducting a disability access audit of the big flea market in central Apia. The Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (the focal point ministry for disability issues) is running a workshop on Community Based Rehabilitation and how that links in with Samoa’s laws and policies. Some more information on these events can be found in this news article that was published early in the week in some Samoan newspapers, written by our Human Rights Legal Officer, Dr Melanie O’Brien.

The NHRI supports and is involved in the push for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as disability rights are a significant issue in Samoa for the more than 4000 persons with disabilities. The NHRI’s involvement will include participation in the Samoa Law Reform Commission’s legislative compliance review in 2014.