Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
SENATE President Floyd Morris, who is blind, has warned government member Navel Clarke that he will be "keeping an eye" on him to ensure he does not distract anyone in the Upper House. And Valerie Curtis, deputy clerk of the Houses of Parliament, has promised that she, along with Clerk Heather Cooke, and any other administrator in the Senate, will be Morris' eyes.
Morris took the oath of office to become president, on Friday, replacing the Reverend Stanley Redwood who resigned and migrated with his family to Canada.
"The business of the Senate will not be hampered," Cooke told The Gleaner on Friday.
"Don't fret, people may have impairment of one sort or another but they can still function. His mental capacity, his hearing and his speech are quite together and in order," Cooke said.
"If there is any shortcoming, we will act as his eyes," Curtis interjected.
AGAINST ALL ODDS
A son of St Mary, Morris lost his sight as a child. Despite his challenges, he was appointed to the Senate in 1998 by then Prime Minister PJ Patterson. He was only 28.
Morris served continuously until 2007, and was at one point state minister in the social security ministry. He was, however, cut from the list of senators following the People's National Party's (PNP) defeat in the September 2007 general election. He was subsequently reappointed in January 2012.
On Friday, members of the disabled community, academia and the Adventist Church were among those who turned out to witness the historic occasion of Morris becoming the first person with visual impairment to be elected president of Jamaica's Senate.
Cooke has told The Gleaner that no major changes are required in the Parliament to accommodate the new president.
Morris, who does not read Braille, currently relies on a software that converts texts to sound. He, therefore, uses a pair of earphones to interface with his material accessed from his computer.
A FEW LIMITS
But there is a limitation to the technology. It can only recognise text, a reality to which Cooke says the Parliament will have to adjust.
"We have to make sure that all documents we send to him are in text format," Cooke said.
She told The Gleaner that the Parliament would be exploring the use of technology to link the clerk's desk to the president.
"Right now, we pass notes, but he can't read a note. So we will have to go up there and whisper something to him," Cooke said.
She opined that it may not require any massive capital outlay in order to incorporate such technology, saying the Parliament can rely on resources and personnel at its disposal.
"It would not even be limited to the Senate because the president is blind. It would be something that we have ... a permanent feature in modernising our Parliament. Instead of passing notes now on paper, you are passing electronic notes," Cooke said.
Presidents, in the past, have recognised members on the floor by the light on their microphone, which indicates they are ready to speak. Morris, however, who appears to recognise the voices of all senators, will be prompted by the words 'Mr President' from senators who intend to speak.
Cooke said she was not worried that Morris will have difficulty recognising persons on the floor, adding that the camaraderie among senators is not likely to cause the Senate to descend into chaos owing to the president's inability to see.
"I find that they are relatively respectful of each other and so, if two people want to speak, one will defer to the other," Cooke said.
The clerk said the Parliament would be requiring ministries and departments sending documents to Parliament to send them two days in advance, a change from the current '5 p.m. on Thursday' rule.
Such a move is to facilitate the clerks examining the documents before passing them to Morris for him to review.
Similarly, motions and questions that are to be introduced in the Senate will have to be sent to the Parliament earlier than usual.
At present, questions and motions are required the evening before, but Cooke said Parliament would now require members to send motions and questions for review and approval two days before the sitting of the Senate.
Added to that, Cooke said Parliament would be asking the chief parliamentary counsel to provide bills in soft copy so Morris can use his text-to-voice technology to examine them.