Help comes for intellectually-disabled students in St Thomas
The Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities (JAID) has taken a giant step in providing access to secondary education to 13 students with intellectual disabilities living in St Thomas.
Using money received from the 2014 Digicel Foundation 5K Night Run, the JAID has forged a partnership with SMS Transport and Tours to provide daily transportation for the students from St Thomas to and from the Randolph Lopez School, located in Kingston, as there are no faci-lities to cater to the students' needs in the parish.
According to Christine Rodri-guez, executive director of the JAID, the institution was prompted to implement the transportation programme in response to the pleas from parents of the students with intellectual disabilities.
"Once the students completed the primary school programme offered at Yallahs Primary School, there were no schools available to provide secondary placement," said Rodriguez.
"So prior to the transportation programme, students' attendance was ad hoc.
"Now we're seeing consistent attendance at the Randolph Lopez School, where we offer 30 classes, including skills training, academics and music. This is an indication that parents are appreciative of the fact that their children are able to attend school regularly."
Located on Golding Avenue in Kingston, the JAID, which was founded by parents of children with intellectual disabilities in 1955, currently operates as a grant-aided institution, with five schools and supporting units in 13 parishes.
In addition to the secondary curriculum offered, the institution offers skills-training programmes in textile art in partnership with HEART, an adult learning programme, training, and recreational programmes to more than 1,600 individuals islandwide.
The organisation was also able to use a portion of the funds received from the Digicel 5K event to provide scholarships for students in their continuing education programme, which offers adult members of the intellectual disabilities community an opportunity to continue to learn skills, achieve levels of mastery in specific areas, build self-esteem and gain vocational experience necessary to secure and maintain competitive employment or be engaged in small business ventures.
"The apprenticeship programme has allowed some of the graduates to become employed and start earning, as well as to become participatory members of the community. So far, 28 of the 70 students enrolled in last year's programme have earned permanent employment in business establishments," said Rodriguez.
The JAID head said while the work done so far by the institution is just the tip of the iceberg, she is pleased that the discussion about special needs has entered the public domain.
"I am delighted by events such as the Digicel Foundation 5K. It has helped the public to start the conversations that need to be had about special needs. There is a lot that has not been touched yet and we need to look at how we can get persons with intellectual disabilities to be seen as persons first, make good decisions for their lives, and for society to recognise that they have rights as well."