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The boy who walks on his hands

BY SUZETTE BONAS Sunday Observer writer bonass@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 27, 2014    

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THE ability to walk may be taken for granted by many 11-year-old boys. But for Andre Coleman, covering short distances can become very tiring, especially since he does it on his hands.

His mother, Hermine Coleman, told Jamaica Observer that he was born with a spinal condition that has left his feet permanently folded behind his back. She said the condition cannot be reversed and as such he requires special care.

To get around, her son has to wear gloves to protect his palms and fingers from the harsh surfaces.

Like approximately 40,000 other students across Jamaica, Coleman wrote the Grade Six Achievement Test in March this year. When he received his results, his most recent problems began.

"He was given a space at Penwood [High] but Penwood nah tek him," said Hermine Coleman. Though the school is closer to their home in Waterhouse, the multi-storey school lacks facilities that cater to her son's disability.

She said she took the matter to the Ministry of Education in Kingston and was informed that he would be placed instead at Mona High where the buildings are completely flat and would provide ease of access for her son.

But Coleman said that this arrangement was actually to make up for an earlier shortcoming on the ministry's part.

"Last year before he wrote GSAT, I got a letter from Jamaica [Council for] Persons with Disabilities. I gave it to the teacher and she said I didn't need that. That letter was to go in for him to get the special invigilators to help him," she said.

She said the ministry had admitted to her that it was their fault and had put in place the transfer. She believes that if her son had the invigilator, his grades would have been much better.

The mother, however, is satisfied with his new placement, but the long distance from home will mean more money spent on travelling, which she struggles to find.

Coleman is unemployed and survives really on the kindness of strangers. She is, she said, desperate for that to change.

Despite the passing of the Disabilities Bill in Parliament last week, Coleman expressed frustration that the Government isn't moving quickly to modify the facilities in public spaces, including schools, so that people like her son can have equal access to them.

What keeps her grounded in the face of all these problems is her belief that her son deserves the best.

"I want to see him reach the heights he wants to go," she told Sunday Observer.

Despite his physical challenges, Andre is a lively child who loves to dance. He plays football and his favourite team during the 2014 FIFA World Cup was finalist Argentina.

With dreams of becoming a computer engineer, he shared some advice for other people in similar situations.

"Don't be afraid," he said.

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