JIS News

The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities indicates that negative perception and attitude towards disability, has resulted in the isolation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of society.
As a result, they are faced with a number of problems, especially in the areas of education, training, employment, medical care, housing, and recreation. Those with disabilities are amongst the most vulnerable in the society. The situation of children with disabilities comes into sharp focus, and they are more vulnerable to abuse and are more likely to be abandoned.
But according to the Executive Director of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), Ransford Wright, very soon this will be a thing of the past, when the Disabilities Act, which is now in its draft stage, is in place.
“Jamaica is not yet a First World country, and they are working towards it for 2030. However, there are a number of problems that disabled persons face on a daily basis, and maybe when we reach First World they will still be there. But with the implementation of a Disabilities Act, this will ensure that nothing is left to chance. This means that the private sector and Government should provide accessible housing, schools, and public buildings as well as transportation,” he tells JIS News in an interview.
He notes that where there are breaches, the Council will be able to take action.
“Most of the Jamaican facilities are not accessible to disabled persons, especially those who are hearing impaired, and these things need to be in place,” he stresses. “With the implementation of the Disabilities Act, if it is not accessible, the Council can say, “we have our resources and we can take legal action”. There will be legal implications when the Bill is passed,” the Executive Director informs.
He points out that the reason for such an Act is the mere fact that persons who are disabled tend to be left behind in all facets of society.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know if the Act can force persons to learn sign language, but it is needed because persons who are deaf need to know what is happening around them. The news is now without interpreters, so when the Act is in place this will also be required.the Act will be a passport for the disabled. Some of our Government buildings are inaccessible, and some trained disabled persons are not able to access jobs,” he outlines.
The JCPD was established in 1973, and has been providing rehabilitation services to persons since then.
“We seek to address their needs, in order to have them reaching their goals and making an impact in their respective communities, by just becoming independent rather than dependent on their caregivers and loved ones. The Council works with all groups – deaf, blind, and amputees,” he points out.
The Council operates through their field officers and social workers across the island at the parish level, who are the first point of contact.
“The Council provides counselling through its field officers in the different parishes across the island. We also network with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), to provide us with any information that we want regarding clients, and that is being done in a very systematic and co-ordinated way,” he tells JIS News.
Social intervention in homes and communities is also conducted by the field officers, who also deliver presentations to churches, schools, clinics, and social clubs.
Mr. Wright adds that although field officers and social workers are out in the field ensuring these persons are able to access all resources like able bodied Jamaicans, there are still some hurdles.
“Access to the public education system is low; there are principals and teachers, who will sometimes put obstacles in the way of persons with disabilities for them not to enter the respective schools. We need the intervention of field officers to ensure that the students are not deprived of good education,” he emphasises.
In addition, the Council provides assistance to persons who have special needs. The Council pays tuition fees, assists with books, and also provides scholarships valued at $125,000 to disabled persons who are attending tertiary institutions. This fund also provides rehabilitation assistance in terms of Empowerment Grants, which allow persons to access up to $50,000 towards enhancing their programme. There is also funding at the Council for a Rehabilitation Grant.
The traditional approach towards disability was largely one of health care, rehabilitation or charity. But according to Mr. Wright, the Council is focussing on a number of other things, including public education.
“Our mandate at the Council, is to intervene and to sensitise the general public regarding persons with disabilities, and to advise on how they should be cared for. Some programmes that we have on stream are public education, because, in light of the fact that Jamaica signed the United Nations (UN) agreement regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, we still have to sensitise the public to make them aware of the needs. Although these persons are not able bodied, they still can contribute to society,” he says.
He notes that the recent allocation of $15 million to the Council by the Prime Minister, allows the JCPD to assist persons to move up the economic ladder.
“My vision is to see all disabled persons’ potential met through planned programmes in the country. The Prime Minster recently allocated $15 million for economic empowerment. This will be issued through grants, and persons will be able to get up to $100,000 towards economic empowerment. Persons may also access grants for assistive and adoptive aids,” Mr. Wright explains.
In keeping with its recognition to cater to the needs of persons with disabilities, the Government of Jamaica in 1991 implemented a National Policy for Persons with Disabilities. The JCPD is guided by the Policy, which states that, “people are the most important and valuable resources of our nation. Equal rights must exist for persons with disabilities, and empowering people, particularly disabled persons, to strengthen their own capacity is a main objective of development and its principal resource.”
The policy is based on the human rights of people with disabilities, which will enable them to enjoy the benefits of full citizens, and to carry out the obligations of full citizens of Jamaica. Some of its purposes are to set guidelines and directions for the Jamaican Government, for the equalization of opportunities for people with disabilities; assist Government in strengthening its capacity to address disability issues; and provide a framework for agencies of Government to co-operate in developing and implementing policies designed to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities in all aspects of life.
The JCPD is the Government agency, along with other entities, mandated to ensure that disabled citizens benefit from all areas of society. The Council’s main objective, as the implementing agency of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, is to carry out the vocational rehabilitation programmes for persons with disabilities, in order that they can achieve the goals of “full participation and the equalization of opportunities.”
Other services provided include; income tax exemption, housing, concessionary bus fare, hostel, training at the Woodside and Lucea Workshops, Guidance and Training Centre in Kingston, and the Early Stimulation Programme.
According to a population census in 1991, approximately 5 per cent of the Jamaican population has a disability, whereas the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines state that approximately 10 per cent of a country’s population has a disability. Based on the data from the 1991 census, there are approximately 111,000 persons in Jamaica, who can be regarded as having at least one disability. Of this total, women account for 54 per cent, while men are at 46 per cent. The highest proportion of the disabled is in the 65 years and over age group – 40 per cent males and 48 per cent females.