World News from Jamaica
"A society where everyone, regardless of background or disability, feels welcome, included and supported"
Crippled by a non-existent disability act
(By Philip Hamilton, Gleaner Writer, 02.02.10) Jamaica remains without a national disability act despite being the first country in the world to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The act, which has been in the making for several years, will provide legislative support for the rights of persons with disabilities, as indicated in the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, which was implemented back in 2000.
Checks by The Gleaner revealed that the long-awaited national disability bill, currently in its 10th draft, was recently submitted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to the office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for further revisions.
The Chief Parliamentary Counsel is the govern-ment's law department responsible for the preparation of draft legislation.
Dr Patricia Dunwell, chairperson of the National Advisory Board on Disability, said the latest draft had been extensively reworked over the last three years, adding that she expects the latest version to be the final one.
"We have gone through with persons who have experience and authority in the area of disability and disability concerns, people who have disabilities themselves and have been working with persons with disabilities for many years," Dunwell told The Gleaner.
But Derrick Palmer, a former vice-president of National Council for Persons with Disabilities, who has been blind for 50 years, believes persons with disabilities would be better served if the proposed legislation also catered for a disability advocate.
Palmer, who resigned from the sub-committee working on the draft disability legislation a year ago, following differences with some government-committee members, feels the disabled community's issues would be better served this way instead of being channelled through the public defender's office.
"We want specialised treatment under the act, just like what's done for children through the children's advocate," said Palmer.
Andrew Gallimore, state minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, told The Gleaner he expects the disability bill to be tabled before Parliament this year
"There have been widespread consultations which is why it has taken this long, but I am hoping that we are at the end of that journey for the drafting to be done so it can be brought (before Parliament)," Gallimore said.
Gallimore added that the consultations carefully took into consideration building construction, as well the retrofitting of existing buildings with facilities providing access, as well as services for persons with disabilities, under the proposed bill, in adherence with the national building code.
Susan Hamilton, executive director of the Abilities Foundation which provides skills training for persons with disabilities, said the disabled community, which has felt that its needs have been ignored, will be watching closely.
Despite small victory, persons with disabilities face uphill task
(By Laura Redpath, Senior Gleaner Writer, 06.09.10) Sharmalee Cardoza doesn't like the term 'disabled'. She says the word connotes a lack of worth.
However, many of Jamaica's leaders who speak to equal rights refer to persons living with disabilities as 'disabled'.
"I'm a person with a disability," Cardoza said.
The 22-year-old, who attended the launch of a guide to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last Thursday, has been blind her entire life. However, that hasn't stopped her from graduating from the University of the West Indies with a Bachelor of Education in history education.
"When I was younger, I was able to see out of (one) eye, but as I grew, my right eye deteriorated," Cardoza told The Gleaner. "If someone or something is in front of me, I'll know. But I won't be able to describe it or the person, I can just see the form."
She added: "I don't know how (people) look, so I listen to the tone. The tone in their voice is really what tells me I can believe what you're saying."
Henrietta Davis-Wray, chairman of the Combined Disabilities Association, stressed that disability concerns must be viewed as a human-rights issue.
Jamaica was the first country in the world to ratify the UN Convention, as well as the only Commonwealth country in the Western Hemisphere to do so.
According to Davis-Wray, seven to 10 per cent of the Caribbean's population is made up of persons living with disabilities.
She noted there are challenges today that prevent full participation from persons living with disabilities, as it relates to their development and independence.
A few of these obstacles are physical inaccessibility, communication and attitudinal barriers.
"Disabilities were perceived as a health welfare issue before the 1980s. They were viewed from medical and traditional models," Davis-Wray said, providing historical context.
Since the mid-1980s, according to the guide to the convention, it has been internationally acknowledged that people living with disabilities do not "enjoy equal access to their human rights".
Minister of Labour and Social Security Pearnel Charles, speaking at last week's conference, gave his stamp of approval on the UN convention.
"This (convention) will no doubt heighten awareness of the issues among Jamaicans," the minister said. "There is no room for indifference and neglect of persons (living with disabilities). They have been demonstrating the ability to work hard."
However, Charles acknowledged that while Jamaica may have been the first country to subscribe to the guidelines in the UN Convention, there is more work to be done to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all.
Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, back in 2003, announced that a national disability act would be introduced in Parliament soon. Seven years later, the National Disability Bill is currently in its ninth draft.
"It's my intention to take (the bill) to Parliament soon for debate and discussion," Charles declared last Thursday.
Dr Heather Little-White, an activist for persons with disabilities and a favoured guest speaker among those in attendance, said while Charles supported and praised the strides persons living with disabilities have made towards equal rights, she didn't see the numbers to prove it.
"We're not seeing the statistics," she stressed, pointing out that the employment rate among persons living with disabilities is low.
Cardoza is currently unemployed despite her qualification to teach history and social studies up to the high-school level.
Delcie Pasco, who is also blind, is also unemployed. She is finishing up her Master of Social Work and lost her job when funding ran out for a social-work programme in inner-city communities.
"I'm qualified," she said, lamenting her jobless status.
Little-White noted that senior officials, such as the minister of health or his representatives, were not present at the launch.
Cardoza said more government officials should have attended.
"I think each ministry should be here or send a representative," Cardoza said.
Ignorant teachers - Children's Advocate reports that students with learning disabilities are being punished by teachers
(Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter 21.02.10)
The Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) has accused some teachers of punishing children with learning disabilities for failing to grasp instructions as quickly as others.
In its 2008-2009 annual report, the OCA also intimated that some of the students might be the victim of floggings at the hands of teachers.
"The OCA has received reports of children being victims of corporal punishment in schools by teachers as a result of their inability to grasp what is being taught as quickly as others."
The report noted that the tragic happenings were brought to the fore at the OCA National Children's Consultation held in 2008.
In addition, the report highlighted that students were being margi-nalised as a result of their learning challenges.
"Where a learning disability exists, many times, children are stigmatised as being stupid and sometimes punished by teachers for not following or not understanding instructions," the report said.
Efforts to get a comment from Michael Stewart, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, were unsuccessful.
Antonica Gunter-Gayle, programmes director of the Early Stimulation Programme - a special scheme that caters to the needs of children with various types of developmental disabilities, including Down's syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy - told our news team that many children with learning disabilities were not being detected and were suffering unduly as a result.
"We do miss a lot of them. Some of them get lost in the system, (and) some of them are labelled as dunce and rude," Gunter-Gayle said.
In highlighting the plight of children with special-education needs, the OCA argued that irrespective of the strides made in education, children with disabilities are still short-staffed by the school system.
The report continued: "Where children with the major disabilities like sight impairment can be easily detected, others with learning abilities, such as dyslexia, are not easily detected."
The OCA report explains that the symptoms of learning disabilities include delayed language skills, trouble rhyming, habitual mispronunciation, persistent baby talk, difficulty in learning letters in simple words, confusion involving words that sound alike, and difficulty following instructions.
The OCA urged that children be observed for symptoms of learning disabilities, the relevant tests carried out, and treatment given to help them to deal with their disability.
"The Early Intervention, Screening and Diagnostic Programme for Children and Households being developed by the Early Childhood Commission is welcome and should be given urgent attention."
The report also said that the screening process must be accompanied by mechanisms to offer adequate services once the children with special needs were identified.
Too little, too late - Education ministry's slow response to special-needs cases
At present, no widespread screening is done before grade three at the primary level.
"For now, the ministry uses the grade three diagnostic test and Grade Four Literacy Test. We know this is late," conceded Colin Blair, director of communications in the Ministry of Education.
However, he told our news team that a special-education policy was being developed to address the early identification of children with special-education needs.
Blair explained that one aspect of the policy is known as 'child find', which is designed to identify children with special needs, screen and assess them formally to determine their categorisation and placement.
The education ministry is to use academic and cognitive-performance mechanisms to identify those in need of help.
Blair also revealed that the education ministry was looking into starting the identification process at grade one, with individual learning profiles and those children determined to have deficiencies being given help at that stage.
He also pointed out that the ministry had embarked on a re-organising of schools to get special-education institutions to be primary or secondary schools.
"It's being planned that schools will get their own principals. Many schools are satellites of the Randolph Lopez School of Hope and other institutions," Blair stated while pointing out that many of the special-education schools are now composite institutions with both primary and secondary students.
The education ministry also pointed out that the Early Child-hood Commission was developing a child passport mechanism that would have certain key information.
"This will serve as a tool to help identify children with special-education needs at the early childhood level. The passport is to come on stream shortly."
According to Blair, the health ministry plays a role in the early identification of children with special needs through its early stimulation initiatives involving the clinics.
He added that a handbook, with guidelines for referral and identification, was also being developed. The book is to be used by principals and teachers and its design should aid in identifying children who might need to be served outside of the regular education setting.
Additionally, the ministry is also trying to get a course re-introduced or given more prominence in teachers' colleges that is aimed at enabling teachers to identify children with special needs.
A special registry of professionals is also being developed by the ministry which will be made available to parents and guardians of children with special needs.
|MDAA gratefully acknowledges funding provided by the Australian Government through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs,
as well as Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Department of Human Services NSW.
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