Crippled by bullet, disabled hero stands tall - Advocate works for Cornwall residents from wheelchair
Although Andrew East’s life was forever changed after he was shot and crippled 20 years ago, his experience as president of the Cornwall Combined Disabilities Association (CCDA) since 2014 has fuelled his determination to ensure that disabled individuals are given the rights and freedoms they deserve.
East, 50, who is a founding member of the CCDA and previously served as its treasurer, said the lobby sought to highlight deficits in social services to persons with disabilities and promote initiatives that make life more inclusive and sociable for the vulnerable.
“Some persons are disenchanted when help is promised because a lot of help has been promised before but was not forthcoming, but we are trying to break that divide and the deficiency in belief,” said East.
The CCDA participated in the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities’ (JCPD) national service at Calvary Baptist Church in Montego Bay on Sunday.
The service was held to launch the JCPD’s annual Disabilities Awareness Week, held under the theme ‘Build Back Better: An Inclusive Society for Persons with Disabilities post-COVID-19’.
East, who hails from Cambridge, St James, recalls the fateful day in 2000 when while working as a security guard in Montego Bay, he got shot attempting to stop a robbery.
“I have not gotten a surgery as the only treatment I have gotten is rehabilitation, and I am still here after 20 years,” East said of that ordeal.
“The Lord is the only one that has kept me to be here now.”
Following his harrowing experience, he helped found, in 2014, the CCDA, which serves more than 150 persons across the county of Cornwall. The group also works closely with the JCPD and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, advocating for disabled residents in western Jamaica.
“We are bridging the gap because there is always a huge void between Kingston and the rest of the country. We came together and formed the CCDA as a group so we could be a voice for the five parishes in the Cornwall county,” East told The Gleaner.
One source of frustration for him, personally and as an activist for the disabled community, is the lack of support on employment, education, and mobility.
Zavia Mayne, state minister for labour and social security, who attended Sunday’s church service, revealed in 2018 that while there were 200,000 persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Jamaica, a census showed that fewer than one per cent were employed. East said PWDs were one of the most vulnerable groups in Jamaica.
“With our society, jobs are not forthcoming easily, especially in western Jamaica. With the whole infrastructure, most buildings have been built so long and it is mostly steps, and for persons like me who are wheelchair-bound, it is such a difficult thing,” East said.
“Even for re-education, learning new things to offset the disabilities in a productive way so you can be more meaningful to society, it is really difficult.”
At present, the CCDA is looking forward to the implementation of the Disabilities Act, which was passed in 2014 and is expected to come into effect during the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
“We have been working on the workforce integration because not every disability reacts the same, and if it happens in the workplace, there should be somebody who is able to cope and deal with that,” said East.
“It is not coming fast enough, but we know the effort is being made and that there is progress being made.”