Jonathon Rowe is among the estimated 400,000 Jamaicans, representing 15 per cent of the population, living with some form of disability.
The 28-year old St. Catherine resident has cerebral palsy, and a severe speech impediment, which he struggles to cope with daily.
Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills, and is usually caused by brain damage that occurs before or during birth, or during the first three to five years of a child's life.
Mr. Rowe, who is supported by family and friends, notes that “sometimes it is hard to get by. When you want to go somewhere, or do something and you are unable to move on your own, it can be difficult. It is also really difficult when you are trying to say something, and persons do not understand what you are trying to say.”
Mr. Rowe’s mother, Dionne Thompson, admits that the situation is challenging at times, but notes that no matter how hard things get, she always gets through with God’s help, and that of relatives and friends.
While commending the work of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), she says that perhaps, more could be done to reach people, especially those in remote areas.
She mentions the need for a special bus service, specially equipped schools in all parishes, at different levels, counselling for parents to deal with children, who have special needs, and access to information in all modes of communication.
“I just want to see persons with disabilities being an integral part of society, without being discriminated against, and playing their role so that they can be considered equal to the able-bodied,” she points out.
Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Derrick Kellier, says the Government understands the growing concerns of parents of children with disabilities, and is working along with other state bodies to meet their needs.
“We are working to ensure that persons with disabilities, or special needs, are included in the economic, civil and political processes of our country, because the aim is to have a more inclusive society, where all persons, including the disabled, can play a part,” he says.
“I am happy to say that the world is changing – and so, too, are views and modalities relating to persons with disabilities. Over the last few decades, a shift in thinking has taken place, and it is no longer correct to view persons with disabilities as objects of charity. They are citizens with equal rights and full power, playing an active role in society,” he adds.
While acknowledging that there are gaps, he says that there has been a lot of progress.
He informs that the Government has stepped up its efforts to implement a number of policies and programmes, to secure the well-being of the disabled community and there are ongoing efforts to adequately facilitate disabled persons in Jamaica.
“We are working to have all new schools constructed with the necessary facilities to meet the needs of children with disabilities, while older schools are being encouraged to make arrangements or modifications, where necessary,” he tells JIS News.
Mr. Kellier further notes that several specially designed buses have been added to the public transportation system to allow for access by wheelchair-bound persons and those with other forms of mobility challenges.
The Minister indicates that he will be working to provide more education and training opportunities for the disabled and to ensure that the National Disability Act is passed in Parliament during the 2012/2013 legislative year.
This legislation, he says, will seek to provide the regulatory framework to protect and support the rights of persons with disabilities in all spheres, including education and training, health services, employment, access to the built environment and participation in public life.
Minister Kellier tells JIS News that the Ministry is also in the process of creating an electronic database of persons with disabilities, with assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The aim is to establish a reliable register to enable more effective planning by the Government to meet the needs of the disabled community.
The Minister says that efforts must be made at the family and community levels to eliminate stigma and discrimination. “We must strive to promote awareness of disability issues, rehabilitation and the participation of persons with disabilities in national development,” he notes.
Importantly, he underlines that this can only be achieved with direct participation from lobby groups, and persons with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Ms. Thompson urges parents with disabled children to “love them, care for them, and nurture them, because they did not ask to be born or be given their conditions. We, as parents, brought them into this world to become a part of society, so we should cater to their every need.”