Fancy buildings but no provision for the disabled

Fancy buildings but no provision for the disabled

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

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This country is not awash with the kind of money needed to tackle the myriad problems we face; therefore, what is increasingly more critical is how we prioritise, allocate, and spend what little we have.

Having said that, we have to call into question the level of commitment that our governments, and the society as a whole, have to providing Jamaicans suffering disabilities with the ability to enjoy an improvement in living conditions and a life of dignity.

Jamaica was the first country to both sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). After all this time, we really should not be talking about ensuring that these members of the national family have full access to buildings, public or private, by means of ramps or elevators.

It was painful to listen last week to the Opposition spokesperson Senator Lambert Brown, doing the obvious in calling on the municipal authorities in Westmoreland and Portmore, St Catherine, to take remedial action to ensure that each municipal building was fully accessible to PWDs when completed.

We unabashedly agree with Senator Brown for stressing at the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) meeting that: “The Government of Jamaica took the decision from as far back as in the 1990s that public buildings must be made accessible to persons with disabilities, so I am not sure why we are even having this discussion at this time.”

Indeed, the issue of providing improved access to buildings for the disabled was a hot topic from as far back as the 1970s. Some measure of progress was made in that regard. But, as is our special talent as a nation, all that was soon forgotten amid the obsession with constructing fancy buildings everywhere.

We seem unable to maintain any sustained attention to the disabled and seemingly only have time for them when there is a traumatic event that draws media attention.

One recent example is this month's brazen and cold-hearted daylight robbery at the Creative Craft Plus building on Hanover Street in Kingston. The burglars reportedly stole three days worth of sales from the trade centre which employs and trains persons who are blind and visually impaired, specialising in chair caning as well as wicker furniture making and repair.

Neither do we forget last month's gruesome murder and apparent rape of 17-year-old Shelly-Ann Williams, who suffered from Down Syndrome, in her community of Sandy Bay, Clarendon.

We don't regard the cost of improving life for the disabled as insurmountable. Based on the 2001 population census, there were 162,800 individuals who self-identified as having a disability. Of this total; 80,000 were males and 82,800 were females.

Children under 14 years comprised 21 per cent of the population, while the elderly — 60 years and over — comprised 29.4 per cent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 15 per cent of each society's population comprise PWDS. Yet, the 2014 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions is saying that our disability prevalence rate is of 3.3 per cent.

Surely, we can do better for them.

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