Disabled persons treated worst in rural areas
Nedburn Thaffe, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The political directorate seems to have forgotten that many members of the country's disabled community live in rural Jamaica.
That is the view of some specialists who work with members of the disabled community.
"Most of the amenities: the programmes, the therapists, the specialists are concentrated in urban areas," Patricia Johnson, specialist in exceptional student education, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week.
"In deep-rural areas, particularly, there are almost zero facilities and children will have to walk miles, and that's why a lot of them are kept in homes and are shut off," Johnson added.
According to Johnson, while conducting a study on a number of rural all-age schools some years ago, she was able to identify nearly 200 special-needs students who were shut off from any form of treatment.
"It was amazing; the results confounded the Ministry of Education … the (children) functioned in the intellectually disabled range and that is mainly because in the remote rural areas, in particular, they are shut off. There are no programmes basically," said Johnson.
While backing the call for the Government to pay more attention to these areas, Maia Chung, who heads a foundation bearing her name to assist children with autism and other disabilities, noted that the already steep financial challenges for dealing with some with a disability increases for residents of rural Jamaica who have to travel many miles to seek critical care.
"We just got a severely intellectually disabled person, seven years old, never attended school, whose parent lives in Old Harbour, St Catherine, and there is no facility there so she has to spend $12,000 monthly (on bus fare).
"To (get) therapy (for) her child in Kingston costs $150,000 and she has eight children," Chung noted.
reliant on gov't
According to Chung, the disabled community is reliant on the Government to provide infrastructural development throughout the island.
Over the years, a programme dubbed 'Rural Disabilities' has helped to address the strain faced by persons in rural Jamaica, but that has not been enough.
"Even then, that would not go into some of the nooks and crannies where these children are and that is where (you would go) if you want to find children who are shut off," said Johnson.
Government Senator Floyd Morris, who is visually impaired and who hails from St Mary, agreed that there is a need for more critical-care institutions in rural Jamaica, even as he argued that some intervention has taken place.
"We just got information that pointed to 44 institutions catering to persons with disabilities and children with disabilities across the island," Morris declared at the Editors' Forum.
He said the number was provided by the Ministry of Education, which provides a number of educational services through entities such as the Jamaica Association for the Deaf and the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf.
But Morris noted that the problem facing persons with disabilities in rural Jamaica is compounded by a transportation issue, especially for children with physical disabilities, "because there is not a public transportation system and the taxis are not modified to transport these individuals", said Morris.