Having accepted the legitimate role and the moral obligation to fight for and defend persons with disabilities, the Government in 2007 ratified the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disabilities, becoming the first country to do so.
In another prudent step, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, speaking on Monday night at the Inaugural Disability Friendly Awards and Gala Dinner, said that the Government will be tabling the National Disabilities Bill in Parliament next year.
"This legislation will seek to promote, protect and facilitate full and equal fundamental rights and freedoms for persons with disabilities, in the areas of education and training, employment, political office and public life, health care, housing and public transportation," the prime minister said. This bill will be a formalisation of much work that has already been done to improve accessibility and overall quality of life for persons with disabilities.
MORE TO BE DONE
Still, she cautioned that much needs to be done to sensitise the society about what needs to happen in preparation for the enactment of this Disability Act. "Achieving genuine inclusion requires iron will and commitment, but the good news is that it can be done, and we can do it," she said.
The prime minister's remarks were a fitting response to Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Canada David Onley's address, who noted that one main issue affecting persons with disabilities is the high unemployment rate, confounded by lack of opportunities. He noted that a trained workforce inclusive of persons with disabilities would be an asset, not a strain on a nation's development. Onley, himself physically disabled, was the guest speaker at the function, the penultimate event in a series of activities organised by the Jamaica Council of Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), in collaboration with the counsul general of Jamaica to Toronto, Canada.
The awards dinner was held under the distinguished patronage of Sir Patrick Allen, governor general of Jamaica, and had as its theme 'Jamaica: Removing Barriers, Creating Access'. The stately function acknowledged the contributions and experiences of people with disabilities, as well as honoured outstanding achievements of individuals or organisations to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. This programme signified Jamaica's continued leadership in inclusive development in the region.
Awards were presented in nine categories: The Faith D. Innerarity Accessibility Award, which went to the Ministry of Health; the Vision 2030 Jamaica Award to Community-Based Rehabilitation Jamaica; the Excellence in Special Education Award to Liberty Academy at the Priory; the Distinguished Parenting Award to Greer-Ann Saulter (mother of artist Astro Saulter); the Positive Images in the Media Award to Jamaica Information Service; the Disability Friendly Hotel Award to Wyndham Kingston Jamaica, and the Disability Friendly Business Award to Supreme Ventures Limited.
Father Gregory Ramkissoon was the recipient of the Minister of Labour and Social Security Lifetime Achievement Award, while the top award, The Prime Minister's Award for Disability Reform, went to Senator Floyd Morris.
INTEGRAL PART OF PLANNING
"This Disability Friendly Awards Gala Dinner presented a key opportunity to take the conversation about disabilities to another level. For years, many persons were satisfied to keep disability at the level of charity and welfare, just ensuring that the basic needs of persons with disabilities were met. However, a rights-based approach demands a paradigm shift from that model to making disabilities an integral part of developmental planning.
"This black-tie affair showed the public what is possible when there is inclusiveness. It helped persons to see that persons with disabilities, when allowed to maximise their potential, can add to the GDP of this country through their skills and abilities. A number of critical partnerships have been formed and the JCPD will move to build on the awareness through sensitisation," Christine Hendricks, executive director of JCPD, said.