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'We are people first!'

Disabled group wants more respect from State and public

Thursday, December 28, 2017

DESPITE the passing of the Disabilities Act in 2014, life continues to be a struggle for many people living with physical disabilities.

According to the Jamaica Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities (JAPPD), its members say they are severely discriminated against, even by State agents.

During a recent meeting hosted by the Rotary Club of Trafalgar New Heights at the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre in St Andrew, to highlight the ramifications of poliomyelitis in Jamaica nearly 40 years after its eradication, members of the JAPPD bemoaned that most of them remain unemployed and poor due to continued discrimination.

The JAPPD, established in 2016, represents 70 disabled people living mainly in the Cheshire Village community, which is in close proximity to the rehabilitation centre.

“There is a lot of talking down to. Even some of the social agencies that exist for [us], their attitude is: 'I know what's best for you',” secretary of the association, Donald Taylor, who is also a counsellor at the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, explained about the day-to-day realities of people with physical disabilities.

“This is where JAPPD makes a difference, and this is why we are planning our course. It is what we are doing for ourselves,” he said.

“One of the things that sometimes disgusts and amuses me is that you're talking to somebody with a disabled leg, [and] the way they are talking to you, you would think that they have a disabled head, or mi cyaa hear,” he remarked.

“We are persons with physical disabilities. We are persons first. We are persons who happen to have a disability,” the counsellor and educator emphasised.

However, he said beyond patronisation, people with physical disabilities are discriminated against by everyday Jamaicans and the State. He noted, for example, that many are still forced to pay the full fare on State-owned buses, although there is a concessionary fare in place, which allows them to pay only a percentage of the cost. To avoid a quarrel or out of fear, some disabled people comply and pay the full fare.

“But what about the other persons who never had the money to pay the full fare? They got discriminated against,” he highlighted, pointing out that unemployment among the physically disabled is severe and so many do not have an income to support themselves.

In addition, he lamented that only four State-owned buses are equipped to onboard the physically disabled and all are never in service at the same time.

“Every JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transit Company) bus should be disability accessible, because you're telling people that if they want to go somewhere, you have to wait on this bus and if you want to go to work at 8 o'clock and the bus not reaching until 9 o'clock, you're going to be late every day,” he emphasised.

The polio survivor, who gets around mainly by wheelchair, said physically disabled people often encounter discrimination in areas where they would not expect to, including some facilities mandated for the care as well as well-being of the disabled and at hospitals, schools and churches.

“You go into Parliament (Gordon House), you can't go upstairs because there is no elevator. You can't use the bathroom because the steps to go into the bathroom are too high,” he said, noting that a body to oversee the enactment of codes under the Disabilities Act is yet to be established.

He also wants government to prosecute people who park their motor vehicles in spots designated for disabled parking in places of business, similar to the fines or tickets levied on individuals when they park illegally in disabled parking lanes in spaces managed by municipal councils.

“This (business place) is a public space; it might be private property, but they are open for business, so it is a public space, and, therefore, it (the law) should be enforceable,” he said.

People with physical disabilities are also sometimes denied services such as drivers' licences, he claimed, because of assumptions about their ability to physically, or even mentally, perform.

“One thing you will find with persons with physical disabilities: When we set our minds to do something, we are gonna do it,” Taylor said, highlighting the performance of Paralympians among its membership, such as Alphonso Cunningham, who has won 32 medals over several Paralympic Games, including 22 gold and five silver medals.

“In the 1960s when we sending paraplegic athletes, we sending all 30, 40 athletes going. Is only when Asafa Powell came on the scene that the able-bodied team started bringing numerically more medals than the physically disabled team,” Taylor commented.

He continued: “We have made our contribution to this country and it's time that this country starts to recognise and look out for us,” he said. “We are not asking for handouts, we are asking for the playing field to be made level.”

Karen Brown, president of the JAPPD, said employment is the association's main focus going forward, as many of its members are untrained and, therefore, unemployed and without an income because of continued discrimination.

She said the organisation is working towards resuscitating a sewing workshop, located at the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, which employed physically disabled people in garment manufacturing in its heyday.

“Needs are there for it. We probably won't be able to do everything that we used to do, but we can do different things,” she said.

The facility, which once was a major manufacturer of scrubs and other garments for the University Hospital of the West Indies, went into decline after the death of Sir John Golding in 1996. Brown believes products, such as oxford shirts, can become a focus of the facility.

She said the association is receiving assistance from the Rotary Club of Trafalgar New Heights to refurbish the workshop and to source machines to outfit the space. However, she indicated that individuals will also need training.

“We need trained persons. My mission is to get some young people trained so we can start creating jobs,” she said, pointing out that assistance was being sought from the HEART Trust/ NTA to get more people certified. However, she anticipates some difficulty as the physically disabled have special needdepending on their disability and the acuteness of their condition.