Crippled by a non-existent disability act
Philip Hamilton, Gleaner Writer
JAMAICA REMAINS without a national disability act despite being the first country in the world to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The act, which has been in the making for several years, will provide legislative support for the rights of persons with disabilities, as indicated in the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, which was implemented back in 2000.
Checks by The Gleaner revealed that the long-awaited national disability bill, currently in its 10th draft, was recently submitted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to the office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for further revisions.
The Chief Parliamentary Counsel is the govern-ment's law department responsible for the preparation of draft legislation.
Dr Patricia Dunwell, chairperson of the National Advisory Board on Disability, said the latest draft had been extensively reworked over the last three years, adding that she expects the latest version to be the final one.
"We have gone through with persons who have experience and authority in the area of disability and disability concerns, people who have disabilities themselves and have been working with persons with disabilities for many years," Dunwell told The Gleaner.
But Derrick Palmer, a former vice-president of National Council for Persons with Disabilities, who has been blind for 50 years, believes persons with disabilities would be better served if the proposed legislation also catered for a disability advocate.
Palmer, who resigned from the sub-committee working on the draft disability legislation a year ago, following differences with some government-committee members, feels the disabled community's issues would be better served this way instead of being channelled through the public defender's office.
"We want specialised treatment under the act, just like what's done for children through the children's advocate," said Palmer.
Andrew Gallimore, state minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, told The Gleaner he expects the disability bill to be tabled before Parliament this year
"There have been widespread consultations which is why it has taken this long, but I am hoping that we are at the end of that journey for the drafting to be done so it can be brought (before Parliament)," Gallimore said.
Gallimore added that the consultations carefully took into consideration building construction, as well the retrofitting of existing buildings with facilities providing access, as well as services for persons with disabilities, under the proposed bill, in adherence with the national building code.
Susan Hamilton, executive director of the Abilities Foundation which provides skills training for persons with disabilities, said the disabled community, which has felt that its needs have been ignored, will be watching closely.