Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporter
Educational specialist Patricia Johnson is bashing the Government for its failure to address critical issues that are affecting persons who are living with disabilities.
Johnson, who is a specialist in exceptional students education, spoke out against the Govern-ment's perceived lack of commitment to the disabled community, noting that it is lax in its approach to addressing their needs.
She was addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum yesterday at the newspaper's head offices in Kingston.
"I don't believe that the Government is committed. I see the Government over the years as very lax in its approach to special education in terms of making special education a priority. I see them as very lax in providing the quality of special education that is needed in terms of monitoring schools and we would like to see a more proactive type of government," she argued.
But Government Senator Floyd Morris has rejected that charge, saying the Government has made strides in implementing strategies to help the vulnerable group.
"We have made some progress in Jamaica in terms of bringing persons with disabilities to the fore, in terms of getting them in the education system and people are matriculating more for the tertiary level of the education system," Morris, who is a board member of the National Advisory Board for Persons with Disabilities, explained.
Act in pipeline
Morris said he would be placing emphasis on getting the Disability Act, which has been in the pipeline since 2004, enacted in the shortest possible time.
"The commitment is for this year based on expressions from (Social Security Minister Derrick Kellier) and the prime minister (Portia Simpson Miller) and so we have to work overtime to make sure that legislation is ready," he said.
He added: "That legislation is absolutely critical and from where I sit, I am going to make sure that we put the necessary pressure and systems in place to get that legislation during this administrative term.
"It is in its draft stage and it has taken a little while but if you look at the history behind social legislation in Jamaica, it is not the first. I wouldn't agree with anyone that the Government is lax and it is not committed to putting in place measures," he argued.
But that was little or no comfort for Johnson as she pointed out that the Government continues to drag its feet, where the legislation is concerned, to help the group.
"These bits of legislation and policies, when they take so long to be put in place, in the interim what happens?" she questioned.
"We ought to have something that we can turn to while this is in gestation. We need to think about it because while we are waiting, things are happening and it needs attention," she said.
She further criticised the Ministry of Education for its approach in dealing with children with disabilities.
"The Ministry of Education needs to stop being reactive to children with disabilities and take a more proactive stance. They should, through their planning and feedback mechanism, know each year, even if estimated, how many children in each region will need accommodations, type of accommodations needed and seek to put these in schools during the summer," she argued.
However Maia Chung, founder of the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation, said there needs to be a collective approach between the Government and the private sector.
"The Government cannot do it alone. This is a nation problem because everybody knows somebody and once your family is impacted, whether you work in the private sector or you work with the state, we need to partner," she said.