Government Senator, Floyd Morris, says removing the sociological, structural, and environmental barriers impeding the progress of persons with disabilities, is essential for them to make meaningful contributions to the society.
"The talent is there, the potential is there, but it is being suppressed by the barriers that are there within the society and the lack of awareness by the general populace,” he said.
Senator Morris, who is blind, was addressing the opening ceremony for a Disabilities Awareness Exposition, held on the grounds of the Special Education Unit in Kingston on November 28.
He contended that persons with disabilities, who account for 15 per cent of the population, ought not to be cast aside, but recognised for the many accomplishments they have made, despite the factors that impede them.
“I want to see us being in the face of the public where disability issues are concerned, so that people understand that we are a force to be reckoned with, and that as persons with disabilities, as citizens of Jamaica, we have a right to exist as well,” the Senator said.
Mr. Morris, who is also Director of the Centre for Disabilities Studies at the University of the West Indies, lamented that individuals within the society are of the view that persons with disabilities “should be confined to their homes, (as) they have no place in the broader society."
"Those who preserve that view are living within the dark ages. Things and times have changed where we have long moved from that perspective and attitude towards people with disabilities. We are in the 21st Century where persons with disabilities have broken the glass ceiling; they have moved on to university and have achieved their PhDs and are making contributions to the society,” he said.
He noted that the talents and potential of this group can be better harnessed if persons are made aware of the services available to the disabled community.
"If teachers and parents are aware of the services that the Special Education Unit, the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities and the Early Stimulation Programme offer; if the general public is made aware of what is available, I can tell you, you are not going to see only one or two persons with disabilities graduating with first degrees, with Masters degrees and PhDs, but they are going to be available in large numbers in Jamaica,” Senator Morris said.
He suggested that embarking on a consistent public awareness programme is important in this regard, in order to achieve a more inclusive and friendly society for persons with disabilities.
“For it to be effective, we have to have all the stakeholders – the government, private sector and the media – on board to make sure that we bring the message of hope to the broadest segment of the Jamaican population,” he said.
The Senator added that agencies and bodies that cater to persons with disabilities will need to re-double their efforts in order to ensure that the lives of persons with disabilities are transformed.
Mr. Morris said he is pleased that the National Disability Bill will soon be brought to Parliament, which is going to contribute to “a radical transformation in terms of how we view and treat persons with disabilities in our society."
The one-day exposition was held as part of Disability Awareness Week, which is being observed from November 25 to December 3. The event serves to celebrate the achievements of students with disabilities and thereby assist in the removal of barriers that negatively impact their personal, social and economic advancement. A lunch hour concert, showcasing the talents of students, was also held as part of the day’s activities.