Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Derrick Kellier, says the government will be working to implement specific policies and plans geared towards meeting the needs of the disabled community.
He said it is crucial that special attention is paid “to this very (important) group of persons, who over the years, have not received the full recognition and support that they really deserve”.
Mr. Kellier was addressing members of the disabled community at meeting on May 30 at the Ministry’s North Street offices in Kingston.
The meeting, held in collaboration with the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities, was held to update stakeholders on the various plans for the sector and to give them a change to raise concerns.
Mr. Kellier told the group that a series of public education campaigns will be undertaken to raise awareness about the needs of members of the disabled community as well as to increase support for their causes.
These efforts, he said, will help to break down stereotype and discrimination towards people with disabilities. “There is a lot stigma attached to persons with disabilities in some communities, because of a lack of understanding. I believe it is going to be incumbent on all of us…to ensure that awareness is developed, so that all Jamaicans can understand that persons with disabilities are not in any way different from the rest of us and are to be treated in a fair way,” he stated.
The Minister further noted that the government will be ensuring that its policies take into consideration the needs of the disabled community.
“We have to ensure that the society becomes a ‘disability friendly’ environment. We need to look at things like building construction. When we are constructing buildings these days, we have to make sure that they are done in a ‘disability friendly’ way (and) that places like sidewalks are accessible,” he said.
“I think within this our 50th year of Independence it is a good time to send a signal to the community that the government is serious about (catering to its members),” he added.
In his remarks, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Alvin McIntosh, said that the Ministry “stands ready” to provide support to the community. “We recognise that there are some special talents in the community that must be utilised and must be harnessed,” he said.
He said that as the government continues to roll out activities under the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), there will be a place for members of the disabled community.
Newly appointed Chairman, National Advisory Board on Disabilities, Denworth Finnikin, noted that improving opportunities for education and training must be a key part of government’s plans to empower the community.
Mr. Finnikin said he is working to ensure that every institution employs at least one qualified person with disability. “Already, we have identified some funding to look at software for persons with disabilities and so I’m sure that we will be able to advance the cause and the worth of persons in this community,” he stated.
Among the urgent concerns raised at the meeting were: access to housing, educational support, funding for non-governmental organisations, employment opportunities, assistance for parents and families, and provision of sign language interpreters and medication, an addressing health issues.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter