Disabilities spokeswoman leaves message for PM

Disabilities spokeswoman leaves message for PM

You need to do more for vulnerable community, she suggests

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, October 25, 2020

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Approximately one month after coming home to assist as many of her fellow Jamaicans with disabilities as she could, thalidomide survivor Faith Russell returned home to the United States last week.

However, before she left, she expressed her disgust with the way that Jamaicans with disabilities are treated at home, and her determination to keep returning to the island as often as she could to distribute some cheer to the local community and express her feelings in the press.

Russell had a special message this time for Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whose Government she believes can do more to speed up the implementation of the Disabilities Act, which was passed in Parliament six years ago but is yet to be implemented.

“Mr Prime Minister, you need to do something better for this most vulnerable community. There is need to step up their training to get jobs, and provide more incentives for giving them jobs and implement the law so that they can have legal protection,” she told the Jamaica Observer in an interview prior to departing.

She said that she is convinced that if the majority of Jamaicans respected the disabled, things would have changed long ago.

Russell is a survivor of the thalidomine tragedy of the late 1950s. The sedative drug caused a worldwide tragedy, after it was prescribed to pregnant women to relieve pregnancy nausea (morning sickness). It was later found that thalidomide caused irreversible damage to the foetus resulting in thousands of children being born with severe congenital malformations. Many of them did not survive more than a few days after they were born.

She has been returning home to Jamaica for the past decade and supporting the local disabilities community with the benefits that she still receives from the damages the producer of the drug was eventually forced to pay the victims for life.

Russell heads her own charity team, Changing One Persons Life At a Time (COPLAAT), which is responsible for her work in Jamaica. She leads the COPLAAT team to Jamaica each year to spread the word that disabled Jamaicans must be treated equally as able-bodied people.

Her mission is to improve the level of national support for the local disabilities community to match that of what she has experienced in the United State, where she moved to at age 41, years ago to live with her parents in Florida. To meet these obligations, she spends thousands of US dollars each year to personally treat the disabled community in Jamaica.

“I am looking for (disabled) people to help them voice their story and to get them the right kind of help. It is unfair that they have to be the last on the list for everything. They need health care. They need social benefits,” she insisted.

“There is unfairness in Jamaica's system, regarding people with some kind of challenge. It is just unfair. We are just not respected. I know what it is like to live in a Third World country but, come on, we are stepping up and we can't keep saying we are a Third World country and continue doing the same things, when all it takes is your inner self. It takes your consideration, and your compassion.It doesn't really take money, you know,” she stated.

“It doesn't need to be the way it is. Somebody has to change this whole story of seeing disabled people as rejects and unequal. I hate it. I love every last one of them, whether they are cerebal, mentally challenged, visually impaired, physically challenged: Straight across the board. Everybody has a purpose in life, and we need to do something better for them,” she stated.

Russell said she will be returning to Jamaica in December to provide more treats for local disabled persons, as the response to her efforts was more overwhelming than she had expected.

She blamed the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the local community for the increased demands on her, and said she is looking to increase the level of support upon her return.

The Disabilities Bill, which was passed in 2014, has as its main objectives: reinforcing and promoting the recognition and acceptance, within Jamaica, of the principle that a person with a disability has the same fundamental rights as any other person; and promoting individual dignity and autonomy, including the freedom of choice and independence of a person with a disability.

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