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'People with special needs are human beings'

Step Centre chair calls for greater sensitivity

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, October 06, 2012    

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BOARD chair for the Step Centre, Peta Rose Hall, has called for greater acceptance of people with special needs and urged the Government and private sector to do more in assisting such persons.

The Step Centre caters to children with multiple disabilities islandwide.

According to Hall, society has excluded persons with special needs and that their needs are not taken into consideration in decision-making, which has resulted in an added challenge.

"People with special needs are human beings. They are not other people, they are Jamaican citizens and they deserve to have services like every other citizen of Jamaica," said Hall, who was speaking at a Digicel Foundation press conference to announce the foundation's $28-million donation to build a state-of-the-art centre on Tremaine Road in Kingston 6.

He cited as one case of unsuitable treatment, a wheelchair-bound man who has to drive his chair in the middle of Hope Road daily as he is unable to access the sidewalk.

"Society does not recognise that there are people out there in wheelchairs who have to get around and do their business like every other human being. So, this man, because he is in a wheelchair, is not allowed to go about his daily business, because society builds sidewalks too high. [Manhole covers] do not exist on the sidewalks and we put up light posts in the middle of the sidewalks and all this is saying to that man is that he should not exist," Hall said.

In another case, she spoke of a disabled mother and her child who both use wheelchairs. She said the mother is forced to hook her child's wheelchair onto hers for the journey to school from Mona to South Camp Road in Kingston daily.

"What sort of society are we building? We can do much better than that. We need to do much better. This is the modern era and we do not lock away children because they have a disability, those days are gone, we need to step up," Hall said, as she fought back tears.

Furthermore, she said Jamaica is a civilised country and should act accordingly by not excluding disabled persons because they are different and require more care.

Meanwhile, she lauded the Digicel Foundation for taking the initiative to assist persons with special needs. She said the Foundation's assistance to Step Centre will help to change people's perception of those with special needs.

Meanwhile, both the chair and executive director of the Foundation, Lisa Lewis and Samantha Chantrelle, pledged the Foundation's commitment to place more focus on the special needs community.

"In moving forward, we will definitely have an increased focus in this area as this is an area we feel doesn't get as much attention as we would like; but it is near and dear to our hearts and at the end of the day we feel it's our mandate. We feel it's something that we have to do," Lewis said.

Chantrelle, for her part, added that the Foundation wants the community to feel that they are not ignored. She said the Foundation also plans to build three centres of excellence for persons with special needs.

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