Representatives of organisations that provide support to the disabled community recently got the opportunity to learn from best practices in disabilities policy when they travelled to the United States (US) to observe the execution of that country’s disabilities act.
The visit was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) International Visitor Leadership Project under the theme: ‘Advocacy and Inclusiveness for the Disabled’.
The five-member delegation got the opportunity to observe the application of the over two decades old Americans with Disabilities Act, even as Jamaica prepares to implement similar legislation.
Speaking with JIS News, Executive Director of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), Christine Hendricks, said the visit was “very insightful” especially since the JCPD will play a pivotal role in the implementation of the National Disabilities Act.
“The act will enable us (the JCPD) to be a body corporate while still reporting to the Minister of Labour and Social Security. We (the JCPD) will have the responsibility to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are upheld, that (adequate) service is being provided and that discrimination does not take place,” she informed.
In addition, a disabilities rights tribunal will be attached to the JCPD that will have the responsibility to hear complaints of persons with disabilities and adjudicate where necessary. The council will also be charged with the drafting of codes of practice and regulations.
Project Coordinator at Junior Achievement Jamaica, Stephanie McIntyre, who was among the delegation to the US, said the experience changed her perspective on disabilities.
“I realized that (the term) disability is so broad and not just confined to the physical but there are mental and intellectual disabilities. We also learned to look at HIV, asthma, cancer and anything that affects your major function in life as a disability,’ she noted.
Acting Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, Robert Piehel, said the visit provided the perfect opportunity for the group to experience the day-to-day application of policies that promote the rights of the disabled.
“We saw here in Jamaica, as the disabilities act was winding its way through Parliament that it was time for (them to see) the programmes we have and to leverage that and be a force multiplier, and to help the population here,” he said.
Mr. Piehel also added that having a disability does not mean that a person is not able to effectively contribute to society, noting that “we should unearth what those persons can contribute and make the best use of their skills”.
“There are many people, who have physical disabilities (but) they are very capable in many ways, and for society to function properly it is better if everybody, who can contribute (does so),” he told JIS News.
In the meantime, Mrs. Hendricks said that while she is hopeful for “a Jamaica that is… all inclusive” there is major work to be done to change the attitude of the public towards the disabled.
“People are sometimes skeptical because they do not know and understand. With the awareness, hopefully overtime, (person’s mindset and attitudes) will change since that is something that cannot be legislated,” the JCPD head stated.
Transition Officer at the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, Kimberley Sherlock, who also participated, stated that the transformation is not only for the abled in society but also for those who are disabled, especially those in the deaf community, who sometimes struggle to communicate.
Head, Physiotherapy Department, South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Suzanne Harris Henry, shared that consideration must also be given to persons, who may have acquired a disability throughout their lifetime and need a sense of hope to be re-integrated into society.
The participants also said that while they will continue to train and sensitize the public, it is also just as important for the trainers and those at the helm, who will lead the execution of the disabilities act, to remain informed of the services and technologies that exist to serve the disabled community.
The project, administered by the Institute of International Education, was conducted from July 23 to August 9, 2014 across three states in America.
By Shari-Ann Palmer