DR RADICA MAHASE
I AM 40-years-old and I have Down syndrome and autism. When I was growing up it didn’t really have a school for me. But my mother was a teacher in a primary school and she made sure that I got an education. Every single day when she came home she would sit and do schoolwork with me. I completed up to form five right there at home with her. When I was 20 years old she signed me up two times to write CXC exams privately and I got five subjects.
In addition to teaching me schoolwork she taught me to be aware of everything that is happening in my country. She used to make me read the newspaper every day. I still do that today. And I go online and I read world news too. And after I read it she and I would discuss what was happening. I grew up very aware of politics, race and inequality.
If I have gone to university I would have probably done a degree in politics or economics. But because I was different I didn’t have that option. My mother was always worried about me. She used to say to me, “Tommy, this world is not a nice world for you. You are too special for this world. People won’t know how to treat you. They will stare and they will judge you and be nasty to you.” And I understood why she used to tell me that because all I really got from the world was stares and judgments and condemnations.
But I always wanted more. I always wanted to be involved in something that would be “for the greater good”, something that could make a difference. And that’s why every election – both local and general, I always make it a point to find out about the candidates and to read the manifestos for the parties. I find it all interesting and I probably know more than the average citizens about candidates, etc, when elections come around.
That’s why it is so annoying when I see the candidates reaction to me. On so many occasions when they walk around in our area and I come out to see them they act as though it’s a waste of time to just slow down and talk to me for a few minutes. I think they think that I won’t go to vote so why should they bother to meet me. Or maybe they believe that I won’t understand anything they’re saying? I don’t know what it is but I can tell you, at elections time is when I most feel like a second-class citizen in TT.
And it’s also because when I go to vote I always get some kind of bad treatment. One time I went to vote and one of the officers said to another officer, “He could even read? He go know what to do? Lord why dem so doh stay home instead of making my job hard boy.” Last local government election I had surgery for my leg and I was in a wheelchair and the centre where I went to vote didn’t have a wheelchair ramp so they told me I couldn’t vote. It’s only when my neighbour told them he will call the media that they made some attempt to facilitate me.
I want TT to know that people with special needs have a democratic right to vote and all concessions should be made to ensure that we exercise this right. I also want the politicians in this country to know that people like me can also be interested in politics and elections and we shouldn’t be ignored and treated inferior. We might have special needs or disabilities or whatever you call it, but at the end of the day we are still citizens of this country.
People with special needs shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens in our own country. It’s unfair to us. Many of us are very intelligent and we deserve a chance to participate in politics at whatever level we chose. Candidates need to stop assuming that we don’t know anything. In fact, a smart politician will take up our issues and campaign for better opportunities for us. A smart politician will treat the special needs population as important and try to get our support. But apparently we don’t have many smart politicians in this country.
Dr Radica Mahase is founder/director, Support Autism T&T
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