President and Founder of the Portmore Self-help Disability Organisation (PSDO), Bridgette Johnson, is passionate about her calling to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in and around her community.
Ms. Johnson became an amputee after losing one of her legs in a motor vehicle years ago, but remained self-sufficient and gainfully employed.
However, an unfortunate incident that occurred while on her way home from work late one rainy night, shifted her mission to helping persons like herself overcome mobility challenges and acquire skills to help with their independence.
“When I started to realise that there were more persons like me in the community (Greater Portmore) with challenges, I walked to all 1,100 houses that were in 3 East at the time. I said I need to identify these persons. I started to meet in my yard and that is where persons would come and meet. That is how the organisation started. Later we started to meet at the Portmore HEART Academy,” Ms. Johnson tells JIS News.
The membership of the PSDO has since grown well in excess of 300 and its Founder and President saw the need to engage members in meaningful ways that would increase participation, while being beneficial to the members.
Thus, the social enterprise, Portmore Self-help Disability Organisation Mobility Resource Centre, was birthed. With the assistance of the Social Development Commission (SDC), Mobility Resource Centre opened its doors on September 30, 2015.
“We had all kinds of persons with disabilities coming, but after a while we realised that they weren’t coming again. I found out that they had mobility challenges – either they needed a wheelchair or it broke down or the cane needed repairs. We decided if we are an organisation advocating to improve persons’ lives, then we need to do something to address the needs and mobility issues that we are facing,” Ms. Johnson says.
“So, in 2015 when we relocated to where we are now, we established the PDSO Mobility Resource Centre and trained some of our persons with disabilities to repair, customise and make wheelchairs,” she adds.
Persons are trained to repair all mobility aid items, including motorised wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes, and in the installation of ramps and other items to make homes more accessible.
The Centre Manager for the PSDO Mobility Resource Centre, Harold Buchanan, had previously received training from the College of Arts, Science and Technology (now the University of Technology, Jamaica), in building a wheelchair and now imparts that knowledge to PSDO members through the Mobility Resource Centre.
With a grant from Jamaica National, the team was able to build two prototype wheelchairs that passed Beta testing at two local public hospitals.
This, Ms. Johnson says, has the potential to not only reduce the importation of wheelchairs, but create an income stream for persons with disabilities who have the skills to produce them.
She notes that wheelchairs, in particular, are used and needed at schools, churches and business places, as they are one of the pieces of equipment most frequently drawn on to aid in persons’ movement. As such, she implores Jamaicans to partner with the PSDO Mobility Resource Centre to fill the gap.
“I am making a strong appeal to the business community, to assist us in making wheelchairs locally in Jamaica. If you check the statistics, there are far more persons now that are using wheelchairs, and hospitals need wheelchairs. Here is an organisation that has trained persons living with disabilities, unemployed. We have the facility, fully-staffed with experienced persons who can make wheelchairs. All we need is your support to partner with us to make wheelchairs to outfit our hospitals, clinics and others,” she tells JIS News.
Ms. Johnson, who is also Administrator for the PSDO Mobility Resource Centre, says requests for wheelchair repairs have decreased, but the centre has taken in 30 young persons with intellectual disabilities and are training them to make sheet sets, cushions, pillows, leather bags, slippers, bracelets, necklaces and soaps.
The Mobility Resource Centre has also taken on a new venture, teaching its members tile making. These items are sold from its store front at 267 Borealis Boulevard, Watson Grove, St. Catherine.
Ms. Johnson says the impact of the work she does is what drives her to continue doing whatever she can to improve the lives of members of her community. She recalls with pride a member who was unable to be employed because of the nature of his disability, who learned to make slippers at the Centre, and a young woman who had limited herself to bars for employment, is now skilled enough to earn a living on her own.
There are plans by the Mobility Resource Centre to open a computer centre with help from the Universal Service Fund (USF), in the near future.
“Our plan is to enable all persons, all our members, in terms of providing adequately for them, whether it is skills training or something at home that they can do. Our mission is to empower our members to be the best that they can be. We did a project with the Universal Service Fund and we are to receive eight computers and equipment for a computer lab,” Miss Johnson notes.
“We want to offer computer classes here in basic computer skills to connect them from home to the office. We have to look at getting some volunteer teachers here. You have to pay your bills online and do everything online now, so we have to equip our members with that basic skill to get on with life,” she adds.
The PSDO President says there is so much more the centre could do, but requires the partnership and assistance of wider Jamaica.
“We need jobs. We need to be independent. If there is an opportunity for us, I am sure we will take that opportunity to better our lives. We have come a far way because of the constant advocacy of organisations like the PSDO and what others are doing to say to the private sector and country, that we are fully capable of carrying out any duty that we are qualified to operate in,” asserts Ms. Johnson.
For her part, Parish Manager for the SDC in Portmore, Ishiwawa Hope, commends the PSDO and its leadership for constantly innovating, and underscores the SDC’s commitment to developing grassroots initiatives.
“The PSDO is one of the more industrious Local Economic Initiatives operating in the Municipality of Portmore. This community-based enterprise is primarily focused on ensuring that persons living with disabilities are actively engaged in economic, social and educational pursuits,” she tells JIS News.
“It is an active affiliate of the Gregory Park Community Development Committee (CDC) and their progress in business development has been exemplary. The SDC will continue to support the enterprise’s development, as it continues its journey in providing employment opportunities to persons living with disabilities,” Ms. Hope adds.