Disabled still face great challenges despite Ja being first to sign UN charter
In March 2007, Jamaica became the first country to affix its signature to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Seven years later, in 2014, Jamaica passed the Disabilities Act. However, that piece of legislation is yet to be enacted across two different administrations. The Gleaner has learnt that since it began publishing a series of stories looking at the plight of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Jamaica, high-level meetings have been taking place to give life to the Disabilities Act.
While those in authority dither, the disabled community – which some estimate to be between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the population, or between 410,000 and 540,000 persons – continues to face challenges, especially in rural Jamaica.
Executive director of the grossly underfunded Combined Disabilities Association Gloria Goffe has lamented that there are not enough specialists or experts in Jamaica to diagnose, screen, or work with persons with intellectual and learning disabilities.
The head of the non-profit non-governmental organisation, which focuses primarily on advocacy, said that Jamaica has limited numbers of educational psychologists, speech therapists, behavioural therapists, and special education teachers.
“This limitation is more pronounced in rural Jamaica,” Goffe told The Gleaner.
“The other challenge is that these services are very costly, and a large number of parents of children with disabilities and adults are unable to afford them,” she added.
Apart from a severe shortage of qualified personnel to work with PWDs, Goffe said there are many big challenges faced by this community, including the following:
(a) Low levels of education caused mainly by:
• Physical inaccessibility of many educational institutions.
• Limited numbers of special education teachers.
• Inaccessible transportation services.
• Far distances between home and school and rough terrain.
• Lack/limited technology and other resources essential to effectively educating and training persons with varying types of disability.
• Less emphasis on educating children with disabilities by some parents/caregivers.
• Low/no financial resources to fund their education, especially at the tertiary level.
(b) High levels of unemployment believed to be caused by:
• Ignorance of employers as to the capabilities of PWDs.
• Fear of perceived increased financial responsibilities, including infrastructural and technological modifications, that may be needed if hiring a PWD.
• The misconception that the productivity levels of PWDs are lower than those of persons without disabilities.
• Low academic and vocational qualification of many PWDs due mainly to (a) above.
• Inability to communicate effectively with persons who are deaf.
(c) Physical inaccessibility:
This limits PWDs, especially those with mobility challenges, from accessing services, entertainment, businesses, places of employment, and generally moving around independently. Inaccessible facilities, including buildings and roadways, are potentially dangerous and could cause secondary or additional disabilities.
(d) Poor transportation services:
While there are concessionary bus fares and a few wheelchair-accessible public buses, they only operate in the Corporate Area. Public transportation is otherwise not wheelchair-accessible, and in parts of rural Jamaica, disabled persons have to fork out extra cash to travel with their wheelchairs. This system limits the movement and participation of PWDs in social and economic activities.
This affects mostly persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing as well as persons with intellectual disabilities. Most Jamaicans do not understand sign language and are, therefore, unable to communicate effectively with persons who are deaf. This sometimes isolates them from participation and also prevents them from accessing critical information. The issue of privacy is also affected, especially when seeking medical care, as often, a third party has to be involved. It also poses difficulties for their tertiary education. In the case of persons with intellectual disabilities, communication barriers reduce their understanding of instructions and what is happening around them. It also leads to abuse of these individuals.
(f) Limited access to modern, appropriate, and affordable assistive devices, e.g., hearing aids, eyeglasses, mobility devices, and technologies that are important in the teaching and learning of children with disabilities, e.g., those with autism.