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Faoa, Lolo and Save teams no shows at Disability Forum

reporters@samoanews.com

Only three gubernatorial teams participated in Wednesday morning's forum hosted by the University Center of Excellence on Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and the office of Protection and Advocacy for the Disabled (OPAD).

The Save Liuato Tuitele and Sandra King-Young team did not attend following advice by their legal counsel to refrain from attending any forum until the court rendered a decision in their challenge to 4 candidates for governor or lt. governor in the 2012 general election. Since the forum, the court dismissed their challenge. No reason was given as to why the Faoa and Taufete'e team and Lolo and Lemanu teams did not attend.

Gubernatorial candidates Afoa Su’esu’e Lutu and Le’i Sonny Thompson, Salu Hunkin-Finau and Iuniasolua Savusa, Tim Jones and Tuika Tuika were in attendance.

PURPOSE FOR DISABILITY FORUM

UCEDD Director Tua-Tupuola announced the purpose of the forum was to address issues are faced by people with disabilities, like discrimination in education, employment, voting, transportation and facilities.

“It needs to be understood that disability is part of the human experience and should not be valued as anything less. Service providers must change their service motto, that people with disabilities do not need to be “fixed” but provide service that is equally meaningful.”

“Society must change their perspective in that people with disabilities have a right to live an inclusive life in the community,” stated Tua-Tupuola.

She said children with disabilities are bullied every day in schools. “This has a tremendous impact on mental health issues amongst children with disabilities. This is considered disability harassment. That, places barriers to have a free appropriate education,” she said.

Tua-Tupuola acknowledged Tulele Samani, one of the advocates with special needs, who holds a degree in Business which she attained from the American Samoa Community College.

OPENING STATEMENTS

Tuika Tuika who said he has a daughter who is disabled believed that issues concerning those with disabilities should not be taken lightly. He added that his daughter receives medical treatment off island and gets many benefits off island, that those with disabilities on island should receive.

He believes the government should prioritize creating laws to assist those with disabilities and the governor should look into getting more federal funding for our disabled on island.

Tim Jones guaranteed he would listen to what those with disabilities have to say. He said he’s been on island for about 17 years and he has seen a lot of opportunities for the government to do things for those with disabilities.

“One voice is difficult to hear but you have collected your voices and put it in to an organization and I can see that you are ready to be heard, I am ready to listen,” Jones said.

Salu Hunkin Finau said now is the time to strengthen families which are the pillars of the government of every country.  She stated that families are the most important unit in society and consequently the members of families, grandparents, parents and children are equally important including those who have special needs.

“It’s imperative that our government work closely together with service providers and funding agencies including non-governmental agencies or organizations, village coalitions and churches to strengthen families and address the need of family members with special needs,” said Salu.

Afoa Su’esu’e Lutu whose 30 year-old son, Justin, was born with special needs and was present at the forum felt strongly that the disability community does not need a handout, but a helping hand to assist them.

Afoa stated that when his team takes office they will look into different agencies within the government for assistance in every way possible to help protect the rights of those who have special needs.

“We will make it mandatory that these programs will stay on the top with the technology and education to ensure that we are up to date and providing the services and equipment needed for our disabled customers to become independent and successful members of the community,” averred Afoa.

Q & A

Q:  Josephine Stanley:   “As an individual with disabilities who has the interest to work for the American Samoa Government and the private sector, how are you going to address this issue and ensure that jobs are also inclusive for people with disabilities?”

JONES & TUIKA

No person that goes out looking for a job has the same criteria or same qualifications.

Tulele who holds a business degree... her disability will not affect her ability to deploy her strengths. No reason to inhibit her because of her disability when she has the qualifications, the disability does not come into play.

“Equal access means equal for anybody, if you come to me with qualifications looking for a job your disabilities should not play into this.  If we have equal access and that’s what we stand on, we have to be prepared to see if disability is something that may hinder you from doing the job better than somebody else. There are challenges out there.  As far as I know that no one was born perfect into this world. “We all have challenges some are greater than others, a lot of us, and how we learn to overcome those challenges, the more we appreciate life.”

SALU & SAVUSA  

Salu stated that the first thing that needs to be changed, is the community’s attitude towards those with disabilities. Many understand we have people who are disabled, however they don’t understand that people with disabilities also want to attain jobs and work for the community or the government.

She added there should be more awareness programs to inform the public that those with special needs also need to work, be active in the community and in the government.

“We should develop legislation and policies in the government that protect the rights of people with special needs, to apply for jobs they feel they are capable of doing.  This is certainly something we need to review in terms of what policies there are in the government and the community as a whole, that provide opportunities with people with special needs to apply for jobs they feel they can do.

“We have discussed this and I keep asking what happened to the Goodwill in the community.  As I understand it, Goodwill in the States is a special place where people with special needs can apply for work,” Salu said.

She added that Tulele who has a business degree should be able to apply for any job that she chooses and be given the opportunity to apply and be selected.

AFOA & LE’I

Afoa referred to a Supreme Court ruling, Brown versus Board of Education saying, “Afoa and Le’i believe that those with special needs are not supposed to be segregated from the government and private sector when it comes to job opportunities”.

“If they are qualified, they should be given the opportunity and when we are elected we will make sure that if there’s a need, to introduce a law which will make job opportunities available for those with disabilities”.

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Q:  MJ Mamea:  The mission of DOE is to ensure student success by providing high quality teaching and learning opportunities to all students. The DOE’s goal says that all children will leave high school proficient in English and Math. Do you think students with disabilities can successfully meet the goal of DOE with the limited resources?  What do the candidates think about students with disabilities being educated in separate classes from their peers?

SALU & SAVUSA

Salu responded that students with disabilities can meet the goals of education with the Special Education program which is fully funded federally. “The United States is very much interested in the success of students with special needs, so just about anything you need to help you with your education SPED should be able to get it.  Wheelchairs, hearing aids, speech pathologists, psychiatrist, the SED program is supposed to provide any kind of assistance to help you.”

Salu also said that there’s full inclusion to make sure that children with disabilities are not segregated.  She added that inclusion is very important because of social aspects, language development, and academic development that your share with your peers and you get a lot.

“Often times there are saying that students learn from their peers more than their teachers sometimes, so it’s important for you to be part of the full inclusion.  I am totally for full inclusion and I’m sure that there certain things that you need to be separated but in general full inclusion is the thing to do,” said Salu.

AFOA & LE’I

Le’i responded that their team is running for office as representatives for all people and believes full inclusion is the ultimate solution.

He agreed with Salu that there are programs available that cater to assisting students with disabilities so they can be just like every other student in the class and that is the objective.

Regarding the limited resources with education, Le’i said that by law the government and those receiving the grants, need to make sure the necessary equipment, books, teachers be provided to assure that those with disabilities are successful in their education pursuits.

Afoa added that there are local laws where Special Education was one of the first programs that provided services to the disabled in the territory in 1974.

JONES & TUIKA

Jones, said DOE is failing when it comes to the children with disabilities, and our SAT scores are the worst across the nation. He said that working with the fundamentals is the first thing to do, then get the structure up.

Jones asked MJ (who asked the question) if he wants to be segregated from the rest of the class. “Which is better for you?” Jones asked. MJ responded that he wants to be with the rest of the class.

Regarding limited resources with DOE, Jones noted that he has the budget and this is one of the departments which is highly funded.

“There are not limited resources within DOE. We can support, but you have to tell us what’s best for you. “If you say you want to be separated, we can work on that however, if you want to be segregated we can work on that too. “I cannot tell you want you want, you have to tell us what you want,” said Jones. 

GOVERNOR TOGIOLA HONORED BY DISABILITY COMMUNITY

Before the forum, Governor Togiola Tulafono was presented with an honorary award from the disability community.

UCEDD Director Tafaimamao Tua-Tupuola told the gathering that despite Togiola's busy schedule as leader of the territory, he is always willing to lend a helping hand to the disability community.

Ms Tua-Tupuola thanked Togiola for his endless support and always making those with disabilities, a priority.

Togiola’s award was presented to him by the disability advocate team, Josephine Stanley, MJ Mamea and Tulele Samani.

Togiola thanked the disability community for the award and commented on a remark by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, on the David Letterman show, where Obama said that anyone who wishes to become President of the United States, should be prepared to be a leader to everyone, even with those who disagree with him.

He added that our candidates who are running for office, are people who care for the community and want to do great things for the community. Togiola said when the time comes to elect government leaders, he hope those leaders will be prepared to represent everyone, including those with special needs.

Governor Togiola concluded with a quote from Greek philosopher, Aristotle “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor”.



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