Improvements reported in treatment of the disabled
Minister of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda (left) leading a light discussion with (from left) Opposition Leader Mark Golding, head of the board of RISE Life Management Services Sonita Burrowes, and Aniceto Rodriguez Ruiz, head of cooperation, Delegation of the European Union to Jamaica, during the media launch of a forum dubbed Enabling Opportunities for Person with Disabilities, last Thursday.

THE Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) has reported marked improvement, over the past five years, in how the public has been interacting with persons with disabilities, and it hopes that this will get better.

This was stated by executive director of the JCPD, Dr Christine Hendricks in an interview with JIS News following a church service at William Knibb Baptist Church, Falmouth, Trelawny, on Sunday, December 4 to kick-start activities for Disabilities Awareness Week.

"We want the public to be more understanding, be more aware of the value of the work of persons with disabilities and their contribution to nation-building," Dr Hendricks said.

"We want them to also be more sensitive about what the Disabilities Act requires, where the JCPD is now the statutory body with the responsibility to ensure the implementation of this Act and to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are observed," she added.

In the meantime, the JCPD is concerned that some schools are refusing to accept students with special needs, noting that they are acting contrary to sections of the Disabilities Act.

Dr Hendricks said there are provisions in the Act that make it illegal to simply close the door on those students, adding that there have been concerns raised by some parents about schools refusing to take children with autism.

"The Act speaks of the right to education and training. It prohibits any educational or training institution from preventing a person from enrolling at or attending an institution because of his or her disability," she pointed out.

"Additionally, such institutions are required to provide the support necessary to ensure that persons with disabilities who attend the institution have unrestricted access to its facilities according to their individual needs," Dr Hendricks said.

She said that while some schools can understandably be having challenges in accepting students with special needs, there must be an attempt to solve the problems, and this must be done in a transparent manner.

"When it is that these matters are brought to our attention or it has been identified that breaches are taking place, then it is our responsibility to intervene by doing our investigations," Dr Hendricks noted.

The executive director said she is encouraging schools to keep the lines of communication open with both the JCPD and the Ministry of Education, noting that having an open conversation about the challenges they face could in fact be a first step in addressing the problems.

"The minister in charge of education has a responsibility to assist and is willing to assist. We will continue to do our part in trying to educate… to try and ensure that no child is left behind," she said.

Disabilities Awareness Week will last from December 4 to 9. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was observed on December 3, which was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992 and has been observed globally every year since then.

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