Mon | Jan 18, 2021

Jamaicans urged to educate themselves about disabled community

Published:Sunday | November 29, 2020 | 5:33 PMChristopher Thomas /Gleaner Writer
Andrew East (centre), president of the Cornwall Combined Disabilities Association greets Reverend Courtney Walters (left), pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Montego Bay, St James, and Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Zavia Mayne with an elbow bump, instead of a handshake in light of the COVID-19 spread. They were at the church service to launch Disabilities Awareness Week (Christopher Thomas photo).

Reverend Courtney Walters, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Montego Bay, St James, says Jamaicans must take responsibility for educating themselves about the various challenges facing persons with disabilities. He reasons that education can assist to breakdown stigma and discrimination against members of the disabled community.

Walters made the comment during his sermon at the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities’ (JCPD) national church service, held at the Calvary Baptist Church to launch Disabilities Awareness Week. The week is being observed under the theme, ‘Build Back Better: An Inclusive Society for Persons with Disabilities Post-COVID-19.’

“We recognise that as a country and a society, we have some responsibilities, and part of that is to build awareness and ensure that everyone from the smallest child to the oldest person realises that not all of us enjoy all of the facilities of life. Therefore, those who happen to be different must not in any way be treated in a way that would undermine their dignity, but together we must celebrate the fact that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made,” Walters sermonised.

The pastor noted that despite several worldwide initiatives to increase awareness about the needs of the disabled community, its members still suffer discrimination, which has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today, we know that much effort has been made in different places of the world to ensure that members from the disabled community have access to the various services that would allow them to live out their full humanity. But in spite of all the effort, the truth is that discrimination and stigma continue to haunt us and sully the efforts of those who are trying to bring these persons into the mainstream,” said Walters.

He continued: “When the pandemic hit, it meant that the world became a different place. Unfortunately, in many places, rather than being raised up and given the opportunities to live their lives to the full, persons with disabilities find themselves at the bottom of the barrel, and they are subject to more loneliness, more isolation, and more abuse.”

Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Zavia Mayne, who addressed Sunday’s service on behalf of Labour Minister Karl Samuda, reiterated that the ministry’s plans to consider expansion of the Abilities Foundation, which is the only vocational skills training centre for disabled persons in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean and caters to students ages 17 and up.

“The Ministry is currently looking at the legal construct of the Abilities Foundation, because to date, only one centre exists within this country. We are examining the legal scheme to see how best we can expand this very relevant programme in the Ministry, so that persons who may need training and vocational qualification in other parts of the country can have the benefits of that training,” said Mayne.

During the service, the JCPD presented the Calvary Baptist Church with a wheelchair, a raised toilet seat, and a walker to support disabled members of the congregation. The donations were valued at more than $100,000. 

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