JIS News

Parents of hearing-impaired children have come together to form a lobby group to press for better conditions for their children, in addition to changes to education and social services to meet their children’s special needs.
Chief among the issues for which the group will be advocating are; the provision of insurance coverage for hearing aids and for the public at large to have access to sign language classes, to better communicate with the deaf.
The lobby group, dubbed ‘The National Parent Action Group’ will be hosting a series of seminars and workshop to air their concerns and garner support, with the first to be held on Saturday, September 17 at the Fellowship Tabernacle Church in Kingston starting at 9:00 a.m.
Percival Palmer, convener of the group, told JIS News that the organization was formed last year following the staging of the Jamaica Association for the Deaf’s conference, which discussed literacy in deaf children. “It was out of this that the parents felt that we needed to do something for ourselves and then there was pressure from schools in regard to the fact that they never figured that they were getting sufficient support from parents, and so we needed to come together to enable the education process,” he explained.
With the government allocating more resources to the education of children with special needs, this year, the group thought it timely to begin its lobbying efforts at this time, he said.
Mr. Palmer explains that the Action group will be an island wide organization, with headquarters in Kingston.
He informed that the seminars, which would also be held in Mandeville and Montego Bay, would be opened to all parents or caregivers of hearing-impaired children.
“There is no limit to age; it is open to parents whose children are born that way and parents of teenagers, young adults that kind of thing,” he noted, adding that the group’s mission was to make every hearing impaired child a fully participating citizen of Jamaica.
“The first thing is empowerment and that is the reason we are doing this workshop. We want to see how many persons are out there and then empowering ourselves, forming support group with each other and sharing similar experiences that will make us stronger,” he told JIS News.
The group will also be seeking to access necessary funding for these children. “Recently, the government has said that the hearing impaired can have driver’s licence and so we are looking at those things, in terms of getting funding and how we can get our children fully integrated and if they are not able to integrate, have schools and properly funded schools, so they can be the best that they can be,” Mr. Palmer pointed out.
The Kingston leg of the workshop, which will be held under the theme: ‘Motivated To Succeed’ will entail three components, with the first module designed to help parents deal with their children’s loss of hearing due to illness or accident. “So, we will do a kind of major group therapy (with) people sharing experiences of how they overcome. We go through anger, denial and then resolution” he explained.
This will be followed by a presentation of profiles on deaf persons, who are doing well in Jamaica, as well as a segment focusing on parenting skills.
One of the issues for which the group will be advocating, is an integrated school system, such as that which exists at Excelsior Primary. The institution has a special unit for hearing impaired children.
Another sore issue that the group wants addressed is that of insurance coverage for hearing aids, which can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. “We are saying that if you put on a prosthesis, your insurance covers it, but if someone goes to get a hearing aid your insurance doesn’t cover that and so that is something that we will be actively lobbying insurance companies about,” he informed.
Also, the group wants greater public access to sign language classes, so that persons in government offices and business places can effectively communicate with the deaf. “You should have persons there who can speak to the deaf because that is their language,” he pointed out.
Mr. Palmer believes that the group’s voice was being heard, noting that already, there have been meaningful changes. However, he feels that more needed to be done.
“I think that we are getting there because the Ministry of Education (Youth and Culture) has a unit that deals with special education and they have given more funds this year and we are saying that this is a good start but there are other things that need to happen so people can understand that these people can be contributing members to the society,” he pointed out.
The group hopes to be registered as a non-governmental organization in the very near future.