Disabled and disrespected

New study underscores that life remains brutish for most Jamaican children with disabilities


Sunday, May 05, 2019

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A recently conducted situational analysis for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Jamaica, with a focus on children, has found that despite some improvements, there remains a need for further strengthening of these efforts, especially as some social and cultural practices continue to impede the progress made in promoting the rights of all children in Jamaica.

The study also found numerous accounts of financial challenges, discrimination, abuse, and uncertainty of the future for children — especially for those with severe disabilities.

The situation analysis was done by a team led by Dr Shakeisha Wilson-Scott, with funding and support from the United Nations Children's Fund, the Digicel Foundation, and Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities.

Participants in the study were selected from the eight key government ministries; individuals or agencies who represent the disability community; and parents and their children with disabilities.

The research team underscored that globally, persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the poorest, unemployed, low-waged, those with low health status, and lower levels of educational achievement.

It noted that research has confirmed that the same holds true for PWDs in Jamaica, as issues of stigma, discrimination, marginalisation, and social exclusion continue to force the disabled population to live in the margins of society.

“Despite the challenges, significant strides have been made in the past decade to improve the quality of life of children in Jamaica,” the study found.

The research team added: “Some of the progress made has been influenced by key legislative changes such as the passing of the Early Childhood Commission Act in 2003, the Child Care and Protection Act in 2004, and the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act in 2007.

“Additionally, the Disabilities Act, 2014 outlines provisions which are specific to protecting the well-being of children with disabilities. Each of these legislative instruments provides guidelines that address the protection of the rights of children as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The researchers noted that data from the Population and Housing Census 2001 indicated that there were 162,800 persons with disabilities in Jamaica, of which children (0 to 14 years) comprised 21 per cent of the population.

The data has also indicated that the majority of PWDs reside in rural areas, followed by those residing in the Kingston and Metropolitan Area (KMA). In addition the highest level of education attained by the majority of PWDs was primary-level education.

The low levels of educational achievement contribute to the pattern of PWDs being largely unemployed or underemployed.

PWDs were found to still experience barriers in accessing information, support services, essential services, employment, and workforce integration.

Gaps in service provision include the inadequacy of cash benefits, insufficient welfare programmes that are specific to PWDs, inadequate distribution of specialised schools at the primary and secondary levels — especially in the rural areas, and an imbalance in the geographical spread of other specialised services.

The gaps in service provision that were identified by representatives of disability agencies were similar to those articulated by parents. The concentration of social support services in the KMA was deemed to place PWDs who reside in rural areas at a greater disadvantage.

Post-primary and post-secondary educational services, vocational training and life skills development opportunities were found to be limited. Also, existing subventions were found to be inadequate in effectively meeting the daily needs of children with disabilities and their families.

The research team provided a number of recommendations for government ministries and agencies, with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information urged to improve and expand the provision of special education services to ensure better geographical spread.

The ministry is also being urged to improve the quality of education and increase the training of special education teachers.

Among the urgent recommendations for the Ministry of Labour and Social Security is one calling for greater alacrity in ensuring that the Disabilities Act, 2014 comes into full force as soon as possible.

According to the research team, this process should occur simultaneously with the development and or, revision of policies that support the mandates of the Disabilities Act.

It was also suggested that the ministry expands the programmes and services offered to better meet the needs of PWDs, while giving special attention to disabilities across the lifespan, gender issues, and the type and severity of disabilities.

Key recommendations for the Ministry of Health included the sensitisation of all staff at the clinical, social support and administrative levels who are involved in the provision of health care services to PWDs.

It was also recommended that all hospitals and health centres should be retrofitted to ensure accessibility for PWDs.

“This moves beyond the mere installation of ramps to include accessible bathrooms, appropriate seating systems, and adjustable beds that allow PWDs to maintain their privacy, dignity and independence,” said the research team.

It was also suggested that another health subvention, similar to the NHF, be established to subsidise the cost of prescription medication for PWDs.

“Overall, it was perceived that all ministries need to engage in greater public awareness of the existing programmes or services from which PWDs could benefit; expand the services and programmes offered to ensure that all PWDs have equal and fair access; and engage in continuous sensitisation sessions with staff,” concluded the research team.

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