Amitabh Sharma, Features Coordinator
Annicia Gayle-Geddes, chair-person of the National Disability Act Consultation Committee. - Contributed
It would be a landmark effort in making the disabled more accepted in the social strata. A new law to protect the rights of the disabled and create opportunities for them is likely to be implemented by next year.
"The aim of the proposed law will be to create opportunities for the disabled to be in the mainstream of the society," said Annicia Gayle-Geddes, chairperson, National Disability Act Consultation Committee, spearheaded by the The Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD).
A key thrust is education reforms. "An educational or training institution shall not prohibit a person with a disability from being enrolled at or attending its institution. This is binding for all the government institutions but at the same time desirable that the private institutions show flexibility in this matter," Gayle told The Sunday Gleaner.
In 2005-06, the Government committed to being disabled friendly and the new government has also pledged its support, informed Gayle.
Close to completion
The draft bill is close to completion and likely to go to Parliament next year. During the course of drafting, the committee has had four sessions with stakeholders, non-government organisations, institutions and persons with disabilities. "We have taken their suggestions into consideration," Gayle said.
The legislation pledges com-mitment to the cause and also will establish the necessary support programmes, including public education. "The law will define what is anti-disability and would be enforceable. There would be a special education policy in place," Gayle disclosed.
"The provision of viabl within the education system will be needed in order to facilitate the education of disabled persons," she stated.
"Worldwide, there has been a shift from traditional charity approaches to rights-based and developmental approaches. The key is to empower these person," Gayle said.
Speaking at a recently held conference, June Hamilton, assistant chief education officer, acknowledged the need for an inclusive education system in Jamaica.
As the draft bill is being formulated, there is a need to get support to put in place requisite education levels and the resource base. "The Government has to ensure that they are equipped and has the capacity to implement the law effectively," said Gayle. "There should be a body in place which can assess and do a qualitative review of the programmes."
Gayle is of the view that the first step should be to educate the people on the prejudices and the stigma facing people with disabilities, adding that "the society needs to be inclusive."
The new government has given the commitment that all new schools would be physically accessible to persons with disabilities. The present laws lacks teeth and there are no concurrent programmes to implement the law.
"We need to move on from verbal commitment into putting things into practice," Gayle stated.
The proposed bill will seek to give domestic effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The proposed law will prescribe a code of practice, for which the JCPD, in consultation with the Minister of Labour and Social Security, will prepare the proposal.