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Blind senator 'keeping an eye' on Nat'l ID Bill

Published:Wednesday | September 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Senator Floyd Morris
A visually-impaired man is being assisted to pass a woman sleeping on the sidewalk at a plaza along Half-Way Tree Road in St Andrew.

Advocating for the disabled community, Opposition Senator Floyd Morris has said that he will be scrutinising the National Identification and Registration Bill once it reaches the Upper House so as to ensure that the legislation is "comfortable for all".

After more than two hours of deliberations, consultations, committal, and recommittal of clauses, the House of Representatives passed the bill on Tuesday with 100 amendments.

The first blind person to be elected president of the Jamaican Senate, Morris admitted that while the mandatory nature of the legislation would significantly aid in keeping track of the number of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the country, capturing the information required for registration is going to present a serious challenge for the impaired.

"How are you going to capture the data from mental and intellectually disabled individuals without violating their constitutional rights?" questioned Morris.


Compare benefits, challenges


He continued: "I don't know if those issues were considered in the House of Representatives, but certainly, when it comes to the Senate, I intend to have a keen eye on said issues. I intend to examine it thoroughly then compare the benefits with the challenges, putting it to the powers that be to ensure that we get legislation that takes every Jamaican into consideration."

While the Statistical Institute of Jamaica puts the number of PWDs in Jamaica at approximately 580,000, only 30,000 feature on the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities registry.

In airing general concerns with the proposed system, Morris declared that he didn't know of the system being successfully implemented in any developing countries.

The senator then underscored the need for a national sensitisation campaign aimed at informing the public about challenges PWDs faced in society.

"A rigorous public education programme and training of the personnel that will be dealing with the registration process must take place, and that sensitisation must involve how to relate to PWDs," Morris stressed.

... System threatens rights of disabled

Senator Floyd Morris is the most recent in a growing list of persons who have raised questions around the inclusiveness of the proposed National Identification and Registration Act (NIRA) 2017.

Earlier in September, Digicel Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dane Richardson declared that the proposed system posed a significant threat to the rights of PWDs, particularly as the registration phase is based on the provision of biometric data.

Richardson argued that all attempts should be made to ensure that the disabled are not further disenfranchised by government policies, which can prevent them from getting equal access to benefits to which all Jamaicans are entitled.

Last week, Executive Director of the Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities Christine Rodriquez said that there was a strong likelihood that the intellectually impaired would face greater challenges in enrolling in the new system.


Stigma a deterrent


She also insisted that the stigma attached to the disabled community would serve as a major deterrent to the provision of biographic information, a perquisite to be granted the National Identification Card.

Under the proposed National Identification System, Jamaicans without an NIC will not be able to do business with government agencies and departments when it is rolled out in 2019. Additionally, persons without the national ID might also face serious challenges in seeking to transact business with the private sector.