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'Oh, happy day'

Published:Sunday | October 12, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Members of the disabled community outside Gordon House during the debate on the Disabilities Act. -File
President of the Senate, Floyd Morris (right)
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Senate president overjoyed at passage of Disabilities Bill

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

PRESIDENT OF the Senate, Floyd Morris, has compared the passage of the Disabilities Bill to the days when he had sight.

Morris, the first blind person to be elevated to the highest office in Parliament's upper chamber, said while the bill is not perfect, it will go a far way in positively impacting the lives of Jamaicans living with disabilities.

"It is unlike a situation that existed 25 years ago, in 1989, when I last saw any image in our country and gloom permeated the community where I am from in Baileys Vale, St Mary," said Morris.

Speaking in the debate, the Senate president broke away from parliamentary norms.

"Today, joy fills the hearts of many Jamaicans across this country, especially those within the community of persons with disabilities," Morris said as he started his contribution to the bill.

"I am proud, I am happy for this day," Morris said.

"I was very proud in 2001 when I got the opportunity to serve as minister of state and we commissioned that process," added Morris.

He told fellow Senators that just as it was in 2000, when he piloted a resolution in the Senate to debate the national disabilities policy, and in 2007, when he represented Jamaica at the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, "and affixed my signature to that convention, I am happy that I will be affixing my signature to this bill".

Morris recalled that when he lost his sight, a lot of individuals in his family asked the question, "why me? What was going to happen to you now?"

He said that two years after he lost his sight, he left St Mary for Kingston, where he joined the struggle to ensure a better life for people with disabilities.

According to Morris, the passage of the bill in Parliament represents the collective and unwavering efforts to secure greater inclusions for persons with disabilities.

When passed into law, the bill will pave the way for the establishment of a Disabilities Rights Tribunal to guard the rights of persons with disabilities. The mechanism will allow for a person with a disability, who is aggrieved or the caregiver of that person, to take matters to the tribunal for adjudication.

The matters, however, cannot be brought if two years had elapsed since the alleged discrimination took place.

The broad scheme of the bill allows a person with a disability to be entitled to the enjoyment of equal access, benefits and treatment, whether directly or through contractual, licensing or other arrangements.

It guarantees equal access to educational or training institutions, health care and places a responsibility on owners of public and commercial buildings to ensure they are accessible by the disabled.

(See related stories on Page A10)