Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Disabled flock lobby as COVID-19 stings

Published:Tuesday | May 26, 2020 | 12:11 AMKaren Oliver and Jason Cross/Gleaner Writers
Senator Floyd Morris; his wife, Shelley-Ann (second left); and Gloria Goffe (third left), executive director of the Combined Disabilities Association of Jamaica, hand out packages and supplies to people with disabilities. Collecting her package is Lorna Pinnock while Errol Williams (second right) and Denise Wray await their turn at the Combined Disabilities offices at 18 Ripon Road on Tuesday of this week.
Senator Floyd Morris; his wife, Shelley-Ann (second left); and Gloria Goffe (third left), executive director of the Combined Disabilities Association of Jamaica, hand out packages and supplies to people with disabilities. Collecting her package is Lorna Pinnock while Errol Williams (second right) and Denise Wray await their turn at the Combined Disabilities offices at 18 Ripon Road on Tuesday of this week.

THE COVID-19 global pandemic has sparked the displacement of many communities, but the head of a disabilities-services organisation has revealed that affected members of that demographic have sought help far more than before.

The upshot: scope for a spike in membership.

Gloria Goffe, executive director of the Combined Disabilities Association, is thrilled about the positive outcome.

“It has awakened the needs of persons with disabilities, and it has allowed persons who didn’t know [that] there were organisations that they could reach out to,” said Goffe.

She was addressing persons from the disabled community who turned out at the Ripon Road-based association last week to collect 200 care packages provided by Senator Floyd Morris and his wife, Shelley-Ann, the LASCO Chin Foundation, Food For The Poor, GraceKennedy, and Jamaica Macaroni Factory Limited.

“Since COVID-19, my [phone] number has become a helpline,” said Goffe, who told The Gleaner that she has received more than 400 calls from persons interested in registering with the association or seeking help and counselling.

Important to Reach Out

Senator Floyd Morris, a member of the association, was on hand to help with the distribution of some of the packages and underscored the importance of reaching out to persons with disabilities during the crisis.

“They are vulnerable, and they don’t have a lot of resources. With the tightness in the economy brought about by COVID-19, it is important to assist those we can during this particular time.”

Fifty-six-year-old Errol Williams of August Town in St Andrew, who is a wheelchair repair technician and a former coach of the Jamaica Paralympics team, was pleased to receive his package of food items and toiletries.

He had poliomyelitis.

“It is a wonderful gesture, and it will go a far way. I have not been able to earn a living for my family,” he lamented, sharing that he lost his only source of income after the Portmore Self-Help Disability Organisation, where he worked, closed its doors. “I get help from my daughter, but the support is getting thin.”

Forty-five-year-old visually impaired massage therapist Kayon Samuels revealed that COVID-19 has dealt her a raw deal.

“It is very difficult. I can’t work anymore. They scorn us. Nobody wants you to touch them,” she said.

“You don’t know where your two dollars is coming from. Everything has stopped, basically, so that is why I am here today to get a package.”

Samuels shared that corrective surgery was done to her eyes because the veins at the back were damaged. However, the procedure to address the problem only made it worse, she said.

According to the Combined Disabilities Association, about eight to 10 per cent of the Jamaican population has a disability, approximately 5,000 of whom are members of the association.