Youth with various disabilities on December 3 had the opportunity to discuss their concerns and put forward suggestions to Youth and Culture Minister, Hon. Lisa Hanna at a rap session held at the Courtleigh Hotel in New Kingston.
The event, dubbed: ‘Let’s Talk Inclusion,’ was hosted by the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ)-led programme, Youth Upliftment Through Employment (YUTE), in association with the Ministry. It was held to mark International Day of People with Disability.
In opening the forum, Minister Hanna gave the commitment to have similar events held on a quarterly basis in each parish. She told the participants that, “I’m here to listen to you and to perhaps take your message to the Prime Minister and hopefully, we can have ongoing dialogue on a regular basis to ensure that your needs are given priority”.
During the session, the young people, along with their parents, educators and other caregivers, highlighted a number of challenges, including their struggles to be accepted by the wider society; lack of adequate infrastructure at schools, as well as appropriate learning tools and systems.
The group pointed out that where disabled persons are catered to in regular learning institutions, physical disabilities are usually the focus, but emphasised that there are other special needs that must be recognised and provided for. Also raised was the cost of transportation and the fact that there are a limited number of special buses for the disabled.
One point of concern was access to the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), which they opined that the disabled should automatically qualify for, given that their needs and care incur particular expenses, which reduce the income of their households significantly, over their lifetime.
Chief Executive Officer of YUTE, and Chairman of the National Youth Service (NYS), Maureen Webber argued that, “one of the understandings for us as families with persons with disabilities is that if you’re earning $10, you’re (actually) earning $5 (because)…right away my income is lower, because the bus fare is more (etc). Therefore, there has to be a recognition that the income I state on the form might look good or above the requirement, but they have to lower that – also this is a lifetime for all of us. Once you have a disability or family with disability, you need to be on the PATH, this is something that we have to have”.
The matter of employment and training was also discussed, where it was highlighted that national training programmes should cater to all groups of young persons across the disabilities spectrum.
Marilyn McCoy of the Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities, suggested that employment through the NYS should be extended beyond short-term employment, such as during the summer. “In a sustained way, in just the same way that the other young people have a year, we need to make sure that persons with disabilities have a component in that year,” she stated.
Additionally, she said that any programme introduced by the Government should have a component for persons with disabilities. She noted that a number of programmes have been introduced through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, but that some disabled groups do not have access to these because of the kinds of criteria required.
“We are not saying that a large percentage of these persons will have access to the programmes, but at least it must be representative,” she insisted.
The participants agreed that even as Government played its role, it was important for the private sector to support the disabled community by employing more persons, as too often, members were turned down, even though they are qualified.