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Christopher Harper | Enforce Disabilities Act now

Published:Wednesday | December 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Disabilities Act, which was passed in 2014, an important milestone for Jamaica, was created to protect and promote the equal rights of the disabled and prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities.

One of its main objectives is to ensure that all Jamaicans are able to recognise and accept the principle that persons with disabilities (PWDs) have the same rights as any other persons. The act also seeks to address the issue of discrimination by prohibiting discriminatory practices that have unfortunately become characteristic of many Jamaican spaces.

However, four years later, the act is yet to be implemented, and this is a direct challenge to the ability of the State and relevant stakeholders to ensure an environment that adequately addresses the needs of PWDs. This delay also widens the gap in the current legal, policy and programmatic response to the rights and needs of PWDs. Thus the State has fallen short on its obligations as stipulated by international law.

As we continue to consider the direct and indirect needs of PWDs, it is crucial to note that Jamaica is party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which was enacted for the purpose of promoting, protecting and ensuring the full and equal enjoyment of rights and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

While we tend to focus on those with physical disabilities, the convention highlights that PWDs include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

By virtue of this convention, Jamaica is under a positive and negative obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of PWDs. In its positive obligation, Jamaica must engage in activities that secure the effective enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by law, while a negative obligation imposes a duty to ensure abstention from violating the rights of its disabled citizens.

Full compliance with international law requires the enforcement of the 2014 Disabilities Act, and this must be considered against the grain of the experiences of those subject to the protection of the legislation.




Conversations surrounding the protection and provision of an enabling environment for PWDs require specific discourse that also considers the experiences of a particular subgroup, namely children 0-14, who account for approximately 21 per cent of the entire population of PWDs.

The CRPD recognises that children with disabilities should be able to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that children should not be discriminated against on the basis of a disability, and children with disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, and promote self-reliance.

Sustaining open and inclusive conversations about the importance of realising these rights has its challenges, but with the ongoing efforts of key stakeholders, we should anticipate that change is possible but only if we hold those with responsibility accountable. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed December 3, is a timely reminder of the need promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and of the need to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural rights.

UNICEF Jamaica, along with its partners, has launched the 'I Am Able' campaign to promote the empowerment and inclusion of children with disabilities by encouraging persons to recognise and appreciate the abilities of children with disabilities. This campaign, a hopeful step towards a progressive shift in knowledge and attitudes, will support advocacy efforts around the implementation of the Disabilities Act - the missing link in ensuring a transformative approach.

- Christopher Harper is an attorney-at-law and child-rights and youth-development advocate. Email feedback to and