KINGSTON, Jamaica - Jamaicans with special needs should be feeling the love as the long-awaited Disabilities Act comes into effect on Valentine's Day, February 14.
The Act, which was passed in 2014, will bring into effect legislation which protects and promotes equal rights for the disabled and prohibits discrimination against them.
The Digicel Foundation, who has been partnering with the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) to promote the need for legislative action since the passing of the Disabilities Act, recently held a virtual conference on special needs under the theme 'Overcoming Challenges to Workplace Inclusion'.
“The regulations are a culmination of the love, passion and dedication of special needs advocates from across industries,” explained Charmaine Daniels, CEO of the Digicel Foundation.
“While our work has been able to create programmatic change since our inception in 2004, this Act will create the opportunity for systemic change by creating regulations for the protection and upliftment of those with Special Needs. The JCPD, the agency which champions Jamaica's call for inclusion and accommodation of those with disabilities, cites the main objective of the Disabilities Act as “encouraging all Jamaicans to recognize and accept the principle that PWDs have the same fundamental rights as any other person,”Daniels continued.
Adding that there has been a lot of progress for the inclusion of persons with disabilities over the years, Daniels noted that the country still has more work to be done in this regard.
“There are a lot of injustices which go unspoken of outside of the special needs community – schools which deny admission to students in wheelchairs on the basis that they don't have ramps to the relevant buildings, employers who deny qualified, degree holding persons interviews when they list that they have a disability and public transportation providers who charge higher fares to those with disabilities. This legislation will address those issues and give persons with Special Needs legal recourse when they identify an injustice,” she said.
The Digicel Foundation also said it continues to be one of the largest donors to the special needs community, having constructed 10 special needs centres and eight schools with the Ministry of Education and Youth's (MOEY) Special Needs Unit to offer access to education for persons with varying special needs. It has also built over 40 ramps in traditional public schools to make education more accessible for those with physical disabilities. At the onset of COVID, the Digicel Foundation stepped in as the first donor to contribute SIM-enabled tablets with data plans for special needs students.
“Though the Act will take effect this February, our work is not done – we want to create more employment opportunities, greater access to education and overall, more awareness for all Jamaicans because together, we can be the change for a more inclusive society that serves the needs of persons with special needs,” said Daniels, as she reflected on the success of the October conference and other programmes.
She went on to say:“As a company we want to be on the forefront of inclusion, and that means continuing to evolve how we engage and interact with those persons with disabilities, especially in the workplace.”
In addition to the charitable work of the Foundation, Digicel Group is a member of the Valuable 500 and has made an informed effort to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace. One way the company does this is through the POWER internship programme, which recruits and trains persons with special needs and offers opportunities for full time employment upon successful completion. The next round of the internship is set to launch in March.