Mom threatens to sue Government over aide for visually-impaired boy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly at post cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s – SUREASH CHOLAI

THE mother of a special-needs child is threatening to take Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly to court over the failure of her ministry to provide him with an aide while he attends primary school.

The mother is represented by attorney Gerald Ramdeen who sent a pre-action protocol letter to the minister on May 17.

In the letter, Ramdeen said the boy, 11, was diagnosed with congenital cataracts in both eyes at birth. At three, he was assessed by the University of the West Indies optometry programme. He enrolled in primary school at the age of five and his mother received a recommendation from the Blind Welfare Association that he was visually impaired and needed an aide, the letter said.

The recommendation was taken to the Student Support Services (SSS) at the ministry and an aide was assigned. The aide’s assignment ended in December 2019. Another aide was assigned but was removed when a complaint was made. Ramdeen said from term three of standard two, the child was without an aide.

The child’s mother got another assessment in August 2023, from a private doctor who “concluded that a teaching aide was necessary.”

Another aide was assigned from September 2023 to February 2024, but since the beginning of May, he has been without assistance.

Ramdeen said the child is expected to sit the national test exams in June 2024. The letter said the child “has been depending on other students to assist him in class.”

“He has suffered tremendously as a result of being without an aide at this crucial time. Every day he cries and asks his mother when another aide will be provided for him to be able to prepare for his exams.

“He has become frustrated and depressed by the fact that his years of work may go to waste because he is unable to prepare for his exams. He is unable to see properly in class and despite the assistance given to him by his friends he simply cannot usefully pursue his studies without the assistance of an aide.”

The letter said the right of a disabled child to pursue an education at a public school without any disadvantage was guaranteed under the liberty provision of the Constitution. It also said TT was a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and there was a duty on the Government to provide aid to a child with visual disability while ensuring the best interest of the child was a primary consideration.

The minister was given until May 20 to respond or a claim would be filed in the High Court seeking several declarations for failing to provide the child with an aide.

“The well-being of our children especially our differently abled children must always be a priority for the State. The child (name given) was born differently abled.

“He has been diligent and determined in his ambition to acquire an education despite his visual challenges.

“The State has a recognised duty to ensure that this child is provided with all of the resources to ensure that he suffers no disadvantage as a result of his disability.

“What he has been made to endure at this crucial time in his life has the potential to undermine his emotional well-being and challenge him mentally.

“His frustration increases with each passing day. This matter ought not to proceed beyond this letter and I expect a favourable response that will bring an end to the suffering of this child and ensure that he continues the pursuit of his education unhindered by his visual challenges.”