Deaf Jamaican-born lawyer hails passage of Disabilities Act

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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DEAF Jamaican-born lawyer Claudia Gordon has hailed the passage of the Disabilities Act and called on Jamaicans to ensure that the legislation achieves its objectives of ensuring full inclusion and participation of disabled people in the society.

"The passing of the Disabilities Act is a proud moment in our history. For the first time in Jamaica, a law was passed to say that the time has come for persons with disabilities (PWDs)… to be fully included in society," she said.

"You who are here are going to play a key role in taking the lead and making sure that the law…is more than just words…it is going to be challenging, but we can do it together," she added.

Gordon, who is chief of staff in the United States Department of Labour’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programmes, was addressing a Disability Sector Advocacy Seminar hosted by the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) on Monday at Alhambra Inn in St Andrew.

The Jamaican, the first deaf, black female lawyer in the United States, lost her ability to hear at the age of eight. She migrated to the United States at age 11 and began attending a school for the deaf where she excelled.

Gordon went on to attend Howard University and graduated with honours. She was later enrolled at the American University’s College of Law, where she also graduated with honours and passed the Maryland Bar on her first attempt.

She also said the time has come for PWDs to move from the sidelines and become an essential part of the country’s labour force.

"Employment opportunities need to be a top priority on our list. We need to weave PWDs into the fabric of work here in Jamaica. I have a dream…that one day this beautiful island will benefit from the talent and the creativity and the contribution of the individuals with disabilities like myself," she said.

She recommended that the Government establish a target of industries and sectors that should lead by example in employing PWDs.

"There should be incentive programmes for hotels that hire PWDs, and then recognise them as they have stepped up to the challenge of providing positive peer pressure to encourage others to step up as well to employ PWDs," she further suggested.

The disability advocate also gave her commitment to assist Jamaica in achieving "model" status as an inclusive society.

She called on other stakeholders, particularly the media and the church, to partner with the various disability groups to help to destigmatise the many myths and misperceptions about PWDs.

The Disability Sector Advocacy Seminar was aimed at exploring strategies to advance the work of the sector.

Executive director of the JCPD, Christine Hendricks, said the council has begun work to strengthen its communication with the sector for a more focused and strategic approach to its advocacy efforts.

"We are looking at doing some publications, making the [Disabilities] Act simple, making brochures about accessibility. We are doing this to make sure that the information goes out there and we will also be doing a public education campaign so that the wider society is aware of what the Act says and ensure that persons are aware of their rights and responsibilities," she said.

The Disabilities Act was passed in October 2014 and seeks to ensure full inclusion of PWDs in society. It is to be enforced by the JCPD.

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