Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, says that Jamaica has made strides over the years in meeting the needs of disabled persons.
The Prime Minister, who was addressing the Inaugural Disability Friendly Awards and Gala Dinner at the Wyndham Kingston hotel on Monday, cited progress in improving accessibility to public buildings, increasing access to education and training, and communicating and interacting with persons with disabilities in the society.
“Government continues to make budgetary provisions for some individuals with disabilities to establish income enabling projects, and this year, approximately $15 million was allocated,” she informed.
She also announced that the Government is in the process of creating an electronic database of persons with disabilities, with assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Addressing the packed ballroom, the Prime Minister acknowledged the spirit of innovation and hard work of the organisers of the pioneering event, calling it “a significant step forward”.
She noted that as a former Minister of Social Security, with responsibility for policy development for persons with disabilities, she sought to ensure that the community was treated in a manner, which served to uplift.
“The Government sought to ensure that persons with disabilities were brought to the table for various discussions related to the policy that affected them,” she stated.
Guest speaker, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Canada, Hon. David Onley, pointed out that Jamaica should be proud of its record as one of the first nations to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007.
The Lieutenant Governor cited the lack of economic opportunity and the high unemployment rate of people with disabilities as issues that must be addressed. He noted that these persons have the highest unemployment rate around the world, noting that in Canada, where unemployment is at eight per cent, people with disabilities have a 50 per cent rate of unemployment.
He posited that it is to everyone’s benefit that disabled people, currently receiving government assistance, become employed and contribute to the economy by paying taxes.
“The under representation of people both physically and mentally challenged in the workforce is a negative economic drag on our societies. I believe that no nation, Canada, Jamaica, or anywhere else, can ever achieve full economic potential until and unless trained and educated disabled people, people who want to work, are trained to work, are able to work, are given the chance to work,” he stated.
Mr. Onley also pointed out that anyone at any time can join the ranks of persons with disabilities. “Think about it, a visit to the doctor, an accident, a disease that suddenly comes upon you, a condition or in ultimate instances, the ageing process,” he pointed out.
Labour and Social Security Minster, Hon. Derrick Kellier, said the gala event was intended “to celebrate the power and potential of persons with disabilities in our communities and the positive difference they continue to make in our lives”.
A list of outstanding Jamaicans turned out for the black tie event to celebrate persons with disabilities. Under the theme: ‘Jamaica: Removing Barriers…Creating Access,’ the event was hosted by the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities, an agency of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, in collaboration with the Consul General of Jamaica to Toronto, Canada.
Awards are presented in nine categories, with the top honour, the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Disability Reform going to Senator Floyd Morris.
The Minister of Labour and Social Security Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to The Very Rev. Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon; Jamaica Information Service copped the Positive Image in the Media Award; Supreme Ventures Limited copped the Disability Friendly Business Award; while the Wyndham Kingston received the Disability Friendly Hotel Award.
Other awardees were: the Ministry of Health, which copped the Faith D. Innerarity Accessibility Award; Greer-Ann Saulter received the Distinguished Parenting award for her outstanding dedication to her child Astro Saulter; Liberty Academy at the Priory received the Excellence in Special Education Award; and the Vision 2030 Jamaica Award went to Community-based Rehabilitation Jamaica for being an outstanding non-government organisation serving persons with disabilities.