Sun | Feb 28, 2021

Back-to-school dilemma - some members of the disabled community unsure of where to turn for help

Published:Thursday | August 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Andre Poleman does not make his disability a problem as he attends classes at Mona High School in St Andrew.

Days before the new school year begins, a number of Jamaican parents and guardians, who are either disabled or have children with disabilities, are in a quandary about how they are going to pay for their young ones to go back into the classroom.

At least 13 caregivers, who would normally get assistance from the Paraplegic Development and Outreach Foundation (Paradof) with books and other back-to-school items for their children, are now unsure where to turn with the organisation being unable to assist them this year.

"Paradof normally help me out, but they haven't been able to this year and I have not been able to get assistance elsewhere. So far, only one reading book I have been able to buy, but a number of other books are left on it to buy," said Janet Bryan, who is disabled and the sole caregiver for her 11-year-old niece, who will be attending JosÈ MartÌ Technical High School next month.

"So now, with them not being able to help as they use to, it is a serious problem because the money I have come up with is just enough to buy two uniforms.

"I don't know where else I am going to get help as I asked over Food for the Poor, but they said I got the package from over there too late, so they won't be able to help," added Bryan, who has had sole custody of her niece since the child was left with her by a brother.

Sophia Sutherland's 16-year-old son is going into fifth form at Mona High and is preparing to sit CSEC exams, but she is unable to afford several of the essentials he will need.

"I have not been able to put anything together as yet and he needs socks, books, pen, pencil, bag, khaki pants and all kind of little things," said Sutherland, who has been unable to walk since birth.

"It is $1,500 each for his shirts and he is going to be made a prefect, so it is white shirts with logo and everything.

"Paradof normally help us, but they say funds are low. I went to Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities and they said they are dealing with 100 persons right now, so they are closed off," added Sutherland.

The non-governmental organisation, Paradof, which was founded by Errington Pellington, was certified as a charitable limited company in 2001 with its main aim being to alleviate the conditions faced by people with disabilities.

The organisation depends on the benevolence of others to provide assistance to its 500-plus disabled members, but has found support more and more difficult to come by in the last two years.

"We use to get the book lists and beg Sangster's Bookstore, or we get the book list paid for by Food for the Poor, but we are unable to help this year because the funds are not coming in and we are not getting any grants," Pellington told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We have approximately 20 children who are disabled or have disabled parents in the organisation. Some have been able to turn to other persons for help, but there are 13 who have not been able to get any assistance."

In addition to giving back-to-school assistance, Paradof provides its members with packages each month consisting of food items donated by various local companies, with beneficiaries asked to contribute $100.

But Pellington explained that even finding the $100 is impossible for many, as most are unemployed.

The main problems we (the disabled) face are unemployment and accessibility. Some of the persons are unable to pay even the $100 for the packages or the transportation cost," Pellington said.

"What we have to try to do is give them a self-start, where we help them to start raising some chickens or give them an igloo for them to sell some juice because sometimes it's hard for them to earn a dollar.

"A lot of companies don't want to employ a man in a wheelchair because they are not creating the accessibility for that man. some might have to wear a pampers (diapers); so some way or somehow, we are handicapped in Jamaica."

The organisation is now doing a raffle, with the proceeds earmarked for its feeding programme. It also has plans to stage a fundraiser in December, which will see persons with disabilities in concert in an effort to generate more money for next year.