JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Living with his disability has always been a challenge for 26 year-old Lecksley Johnson, but he has learned to overcome through steady concentration on his goals.
  • Mr. Johnson is one of three disabled employees at Jamaican Teas Limited, owned by John Mahfood.
  • Mr. Johnson is one of three disabled employees at Jamaican Teas Limited, owned by John Mahfood.

Living with his disability has always been a challenge  for 26 year-old Lecksley Johnson, but he has learned to overcome through steady concentration on his goals.

At first glance, one may not notice that he suffers from a foot deformity, which he calls a “weakness of the leg.”

Each day presents new challenges for him, but with each challenge he finds opportunities to overcome them and excel.

Mr. Johnson is one of three disabled employees at Jamaican Teas Limited, owned by John Mahfood.

Mr. Mahfood tells JIS News that he approached the Abilities Foundation, a Government run institution that provides vocational education to persons with disabilities, over two years ago, where Johnson was a former student, because he felt that the disabled, like the abled, are an important part of the working environment.

“We have a responsibility as employers to balance the people that we employ. It’s hard for the disabled to find employment, so we felt that it was a good thing for us to do. A lot of young people who come into our company who have not been prepared for the work experience do not succeed, so we felt that bringing persons from the Abilities Foundation who have gone through training, they would be better prepared for the working environment,” he says.

Shamar Guscott, 22, is another disabled employee at the company. However, unlike Lecksley Johnson, his disability usually goes undetected, that is, he is a slow learner.

Also a graduate of the Abilities Foundation, Mr. Guscott has been working at the tea company for a little over a year as a machine operator.

Asked how he managed as a slow learner at school, he simply smiled and pointed to Mr. Johnson, who  has been his best friend since they met at the Foundation and who often assisted him with assignments.

“At school it was me and him. Every now and then him use to help mi. I would not say mi have it easy, but luck did deh pon mi side,” he reflects.

Despite their challenges, Mr. Mahfood says  he has had no regrets since the young men joined his staff.

“They certainly are good employees, they’re hard working and interested in their jobs, they are punctual and relate well with other employees and we are very happy to have them,” he  tells JIS News.

Both  have worked very  diligently, and recently Mr. Johnson was promoted from working in the factory to the position of a documentation officer. Sometimes he even doubles as a quality control officer, ensuring that the products are of the highest quality.

In July, the Disabilities Act was passed in the House of Representatives and during his presentation, Minister of Labour and Social Security, the Hon. Derrick Kellier, stressed that “employers will be prohibited from discriminating in the terms of employment offered to the person with a disability, in relation to opportunities for promotion, transfer, training or the receipt of any other benefit.”

The Act also stipulates that there should be full and effective participation and inclusion in the society of persons with disabilities on an equal basis.

Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Guscott  share the same hope, that with the passing of the Disabilities Bill, persons will be more receptive and accommodating to the disabled.

“I think it is up to persons to have it in their hearts and minds to make things better, so with all the Bills being passed, if persons don’t change, nothing will happen,” Mr. Johnson says.

Executive Director of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), Christine Hendricks,  tells JIS News that she wants to see a “Jamaica that is all inclusive.”

“People are sometimes skeptical, because they do not know and understand. With the awareness, hopefully over time persons’ mindset and attitudes will change, since that is something that cannot be legislated,” Mrs. Hendricks  says.

Mr. Guscott says he hopes to see more jobs for persons with disabilities, noting that “the disabled work twice as hard because they have to prove themselves.”

Mr. Mahfood  agrees, pointing out that “people with physical disabilities work harder at overcoming those obstacles to make sure that they contribute just as well as anybody else.”

The two employees have big plans for the future. For Mr. Johnson, he reveals that in a few years, he hopes to pursue a career in marketing, while Mr. Guscott has plans to venture into the area of car dealership.

Both have high praise for the Abilities Foundation, arguing that their training there not only prepared them for the world of work, but also prepared them for life.

“The teaching at the Foundation was not limited to academics but life lessons were also taught, including belief in one’s ability and learning how to cope with different personalities,” Mr. Johnson says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mahfood is encouraging other employers to take up the challenge of employing the disabled, a call that is supported  by Mrs. Hendricks.

Based on the figures of the JCPD, of the 29,000 persons registered with the Council, approximately 90 per cent remain unemployed.

“I want to [urge] all employers to, as best as possible, employ persons with disabilities. If it is that we are going to move our economy forward and if it is that we are going to give everybody an opportunity to make a valuable contribution, then persons with disabilities are part of that group that need that opportunity to make their mark and to be valuable contributors to our country’s economy,” Mrs. Hendricks says.

She notes that  the Council will provide support to those employers who may need assistance in making their businesses suitable to the needs of the disabled.

“If it is that you are having a challenge, the JCPD can provide the support you need in terms of training [and guidance] to make your work environment more accessible,” she informs.