Breaking down barriers
Pioneering early childhood educator looks forward to inclusivity boost with Disabilities Act
Dr Pauline Watson-Campbell, the woman who started Jamaica’s first inclusive early childhood institution 36 years ago with special needs students, has welcomed Monday’s long-awaited effecting of the Disabilities Act. Watson-Campbell, an occupational...
Dr Pauline Watson-Campbell, the woman who started Jamaica’s first inclusive early childhood institution 36 years ago with special needs students, has welcomed Monday’s long-awaited effecting of the Disabilities Act.
Watson-Campbell, an occupational therapist by profession, believes the act will offer more protection and reinforcement of laws to safeguard the lives of disabled persons living in Jamaica, a cause she has been championing for decades.
“It’s absolutely essential, very necessary for change to happen for the disability sector, because things will now be undergirded by law; things like provision for services and equality for many different things that other people take for granted. It is now going to ensure equality for all, equal opportunities,” Watson-Campbell, the founder of McCam Child Development Centre, told The Gleaner on Thursday.
She added: “There’s been a struggle going on for years for this thing to happen, and so, the fact that it has now been materialised, it is going to make all the difference.”
With the Disabilities Act taking effect Monday after being passed in 2014, Watson-Campbell hopes to see people being held accountable to ensure its implementation, hoping that it be used as “guidance for people going after services, job opportunities, access to services and access to buildings”.
After advocating for three decades, Watson-Campbell knows that it can be a difficult task to get persons to buy into the message of inclusion for persons living with disabilities, noting that the effort requires special talents, skills, understanding and much patience.
She said that getting things going at the early childhood level decades ago was more challenging dealing with COVID-19 now.
“The pandemic has brought its challenges of another kind, but to tell you the truth, the hardest part of this whole operation – getting the programme going – was in the first 10 years because we were bringing into the forefront something that was new to Jamaica and new to the Caribbean,” Watson-Campbell told The Gleaner.
“It was the first we were having an inclusive setting for young children. In the past, you probably would have had a couple of children who were deaf or blind in the school setting, but we had set out with a mandate for inclusion. It had to be a breaking through of barriers,” she added.
Watson-Campbell said that over the years, some parents did not embrace the concept of children diagnosed with mild to moderate disabilities being mixed with their able-bodied children at McCam Child Development Centre.
“We sat there and we watched people come and go. If they come in and they see children with special needs, they don’t want their child in that setting, they’re gone; so it has taken years of education to get people to understand,” she said.
“If they (young children with special needs) are going to be in an inclusive setting, they need to be mild to moderate for them to be able to function within the classroom or else you’ll spend your whole time trying deal with one child or two children,” the occupational therapist explained.
She could recall her first forum on inclusion with principals being hosted in 1995, but the seed for this vision had been planted even before she started McCam in 1986.
“In my early years, I got involved with the Mico Care Centre. They have an assessment and research centre and I was one of the members of the team that actually saw children coming in for different reasons, and so over time, I realised that the [special needs] children who were coming kinda came a little late for what I wanted to see developmentally, and so I started to talk with another young lady about starting something, so that is how McCam was conceived as a programme to work with children zero to six years,” she said.
Watson-Campbell said that although she saw the idea as worthwhile, her colleague later took off and left her behind.
“She fell out of the programme, and I always give the story that her husband was a bank manager and he sat her down the night before and told her this is not a moneymaking thing. You’re going to be paying out more than you’re getting in, so she just didn’t turn up,” she explained.
“So I have been struggling with my husband [Lewis Campbell] behind me all these years and I think we made the right call, because we realise that early intervention is actually the best time to start to work with children who have, like any type kind of atypical tendencies. That’s when the brain is most plastic and you can do much more in terms of making changes in the brain function; laying down new pathways, increasing connectivity between cells and so on. Those early years are vital for that.”
Main objectives of Disabilities Act
• Prevent or prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities.
• Encourage Jamaicans to recognise and accept that persons with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as any other person.
• Promote the individual dignity, freedom of choice and independence of persons with disabilities.
• Promote acceptance of persons with disabilities and respect for their differences as human beings.