Govt. Targets the Disabled with far Reaching Laws


Michael Thorny, Coordinator of Information Technology projects for persons with disabilities at the National Youth Service (NYS), views the move by government to amend the Road Traffic Act to allow deaf persons to drive, as a victory for the disabled community in Jamaica.
“I think the amendment is long overdue. They (the disabled community) have been lobbying for over 30 years for this change,” Mr. Thorny tells JIS News in a recent interview.
He feels however, that the law should not be limited to the deaf, as persons with other disabilities should be allowed to drive. “Not only deaf persons should be allowed to drive but persons with other disabilities as well,” says Mr. Thorny, who suffers from a physical disability caused by poliomyelitis.
He is also concerned that persons with disabilities may have to go through discriminating procedures to obtain their driver’s license. The procedure presently requires a senior police officer to be present at the driving test. “I feel uncomfortable to have a senior police officer there. I feel it is an affront to my dignity. I feel like a criminal,” Mr. Thorny states.
But even with these concerns, it is felt that the amended legislation is a good move and shows consideration for the disabled in Jamaica. Mr. Thorny notes that deaf persons from aboard have been allowed to drive in Jamaica.
“If we have deaf persons from aboard coming to drive here, then why can’t deaf people here in Jamaica be allowed to drive?” he asks.
The Amendment to the Road Traffic Act, to give deaf and hearing-impaired persons the right to drive, should be placed before Parliament by the end of March 2005, says Senator Floyd Morris, State Minister for Labour and Social Security.
He tells JIS News that the legislation, which is now before the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, should come as a relief to many deaf persons as they have been waiting for several years for the legal right to become motorists.
Senator Morris says that the amendment has taken a while to be made official because of certain technicalities. “It is taking a little time because there are some technicalities involved, however it is something that we are committed to as a government”, he points out.
The amendment to the Road Traffic Act is not the only positive legislation being considered for the disabled. A second legislation being proposed is the National Disability Act, which seeks to comprehensively address the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The Act is considered groundbreaking since it would be the first of its kind in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.
“The National Disability Act is more comprehensive because it would be the first time in Jamaica and in the Caribbean that an all embracing legislation is being drafted to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities,” Senator Morris informs JIS News.
No time frame has been set or proposed for this legislation to be made official. “One would understand that in the context where it is the first time we are seeing such a legislation in the Caribbean that it is going to take some time,” the Senator says.
He notes however, that progress is being made to get the Act drafted and presented to Parliament. “The Prime Minister has asked for debate to take place in the Lower House on the National Policy for the Disabled”, the Senator tells JIS News, informing that this debate will inform the National Disability Act.He notes that once the debate is completed, Cabinet’s approval would be sought to issue drafting instructions.
But even as work continue to effect these laws, Senator Morris says that several other Bills have been sent to Parliament that make provision for the disabled. This, he believes, is a positive trend.”I think that this is a positive trend as, take for example, the Access to Information Act, which makes provision for information to be provided in the recommended form for the blind and visually impaired”, he states.
Meanwhile, the Senator has commendations for advocacy groups such as the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities, the Salvation Army and the Combined Disability Association (CDA), which he says, has been recognised by the government “as the major advocate organisation for the disabled and they have been doing a marvellous job in bringing forth the concerns of the disabled such as the amendment to the Road Traffic Act.”
He further points out that the government uses the National Advisory Board for the Disabled as a conduit for filtering the concerns from the various organisations.
Disabilities Awareness Week was observed from November 28 to December 3 under the theme: ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.’
The Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities used the opportunity to highlight the positive work being done by persons with disabilities as well as to sensitise the public on how to treat them.
Activities during the week included a ‘blind cricket’ match at the University of the West Indies Mona Bowl on Friday, December 3.

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