Youth leaders from the disabled community are clamoring for greater access to tertiary-level training and employment opportunities, as they struggle to gain equality with their able-bodied peers.
The youths voiced their concerns to Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna, and United States Ambassador to Jamaica, Her Excellency Pamela Bridgewater, among other stakeholders, during a roundtable discussion hosted at the US Embassy in Kingston on Friday (April 20), in observance of Global Youth Service Day.
Miss Deaf International, Cassandra Whyte, who communicated through an interpreter, noted that most young people in the deaf community are marginalised and discriminated against because of their disability.
She said one of their main areas of concern is tertiary level education, as local institutions do not have the proper facilities or programmes in place to make learning accessible to them.
“It is very hard to get education for the deaf community. Many of them, they are ready and they are qualified, they have their CXCs, but Jamaican universities are just not accepting them,” she said, noting that many have to go abroad to study.
“What I want is for the deaf to stay in Jamaica and be creative here. I want the universities to be open to us, so we can study and get our degrees,” she said.
Miss Whyte, who is a social worker at the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, said employment opportunities for members of the deaf community are also limited. “Many persons have their qualifications, but they just have to sitting there waiting and we have many deaf people who are very skilled and they are ready to work, but when they go to these companies, the bosses say ‘no we can’t accept you, because you are deaf’,” she informed.
Delegate of the National Youth Council, Shanna Parkes, who is visually impaired, echoed the sentiments of Miss Whyte, noting that young people from the disabled community experience discrimination “everyday”.
Miss Parkes noted that parents are often to be blamed for their children receiving little or no education, as many of them are embarrassed that they have a disabled child and so they lock them away at home instead of sending them out to school.
“There are disabled children, who reach the age of 20 and they have never been taught,” she remarked.
In response, Miss Hanna said the Ministry, through the National Council for Youth Development (NCYD) and its various other agencies, will be working to address the issues affecting the youth in the disabled community.
Among the initiatives is expanding the Auto-Skills learning programme to reach more young people, who are physically challenged.
Auto-Skills is a computer software, which provides users with an individualised, highly effective and scalable literacy intervention solution. It is designed to help struggling students of all ages, skills and abilities, to master the fundamentals of reading.
“This is an initiative that we can definitely roll out at all the YICs (Youth Information Centres) overtime,” said NCYD Executive Director, Roberta Ellis.
“So, it’s just getting the equipment, getting the software, and having it in all the youth information centres, so both attached and unattached young people, including the disabled, can have access,” she stated.
A group of some 25 young people from various communities throughout Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Catherine participated in the roundtable discussion, which focused on the work of the youth in their communities, their achievements, and the challenges they face; and policy issues related to marginalised youth, unemployment, and youth inclusion in planning.
The discussion was facilitated by President of the National Youth Council, Ryan Small and Youth Ambassador, Paul McFarlane.
Some of the suggestions, which arose from the discussions included: additional funding for young entrepreneurs; further incentives for employers willing to employ members of the disabled community; mentorship programmes with students helping other students to learn; parenting workshops; and more community volunteerism among young people; more programmes focusing on positive values and moral in young people; and the integration of youth programmes in order to maximise results and save money.
Global Youth Service Day is an annual campaign that celebrates and mobilises young people across the world, who want to improve their communities through service and service-learning.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter