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Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Andrew Gallimore, has called on the Jamaica Manufactures’ Association (JMA) to encourage members to expand employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
“I would love to see the Jamaica Manufactures’ Association…impress upon its members, that we want a small percentage of the workforce of the members to come from the quadrant of persons with disabilities,” he said, as he addressed the JMA’s Board of Directors at their head office, Duke Street, Kingston on Wednesday (March 24).
The State Minister, who has portfolio responsibility for persons with disabilities, said his call should not be seen as an act of charity, but as an act of social conscience.
“I’m asking you be a good corporate citizen; I’m asking you merely to grant persons with disabilities the same level of access that you would want for yourself, or your wife, or your husband, or your child, if they were in their position,” he stressed.
The State Minister bemoaned the fact that persons who do not have a disability or who are not close to someone who has a disability, tend to box these persons into a corner, and limit them in a way that is “totally unfair”.
He noted that out of approximately 250,000 persons with disabilities, less than two per cent are currently meaningfully employed.
Persons with disabilities can contribute to the profitability of organisations, as many are well trained through institutions such as the Lister Mair Gilby Senior School for the Deaf, the Disabilities Foundation, the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Jamaica Society for the Blind, he said.
Pointing to the practicality of employing disabled persons, Mr. Gallimore noted that they and tend to be less distracted and are, therefore, more productive.
“If it is somebody who does not have mobility, because they are confined to a wheelchair, then they are spending a lot less time wandering around the plant or whatever office environment exists. If it is somebody who is deaf, then they are not endlessly on the telephone or gossiping, they are focused on their jobs,” he pointed out.
He said that deaf persons are well suited to noisy factory settings, as they would not be affected by the noise.
In terms of communications, Mr. Gallimore pointed out that this would not be a problem, as a telephone could be used to send text messages with instructions, and to receive feedback.
The State Minister pointed out that, even though the Government has made some headway in assisting persons with disabilities, such as enabling deaf persons to obtain driver’s licences, it is still working to make improvements in education and healthcare.
“We are on a major drive where employment is concerned, because that is so critical; giving somebody a feeling of self worth, to build their self esteem and to actually make them self actualised and be able to carry their own weight and contribute to the society,” he added.
Mr. Gallimore also emphasised persons with disabilities who have made meaningful contributions to the society, including Education Officer in the Ministry of Education, Dr. Hixwell Douglas, former State Minister in the Labour and Social Security Ministry, Floyd Morris and broadcaster Patrick Lafayette, who are blind; and former Director of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), Monica Bartley, who has a physical disability.
The State Minister also made special mention of the Ministry’s Public Relations Manager, Ann-Marie Dobson, who is confined to a wheelchair, whom he described as “young, bright, articulate, well educated and not inhibited by her disability”.
He said he hoped his visit would help to spark dialogue among JMA members, and that the Board will make internal commitments and, maybe, foster a very strong working relationship with the Ministry and with the Council for Persons with Disabilities.