Have you ever stopped to consider the lived experiences of a person with disability (PWD) in Jamaica? I think many of us are so engrossed in our own pursuit of our goals, and our perceived challenges that we rarely take a moment to think about the harsh and unpleasant realities people with disabilities go through in this beautiful land we love. It is very important to acknowledge that disability is not equivalent to inability. I have always known this but my recent experience in partnership with Toyota Jamaica to donate wheelchairs to children with disabilities solidified my thoughts and drive for advocacy. So let’s act and champion the cause that people with disabilities are able.
I journeyed to the Mustard Seed Communities in Kingston to donate a wheelchair to a child who suffers from Seizure Disorder. I was so grateful in being able to mobilise resources to provide mobility to this child with the help of Toyota Jamaica. However, one of the many things that struck a nerve during the experience was engaging other young people with disability at the home. I was pleased to meet a young man with disability who displayed great confidence in introducing himself and making it known how talented he is.
He indicated how much he loved Digicel Rising Stars and how he is the sound engineer within the community. Funny enough, I thought to myself that this is a match made in heaven because the Digicel Foundation’s love for people with disabilities is commendable. I always admired the Foundation’s inclusion of people with disabilities in their workforce, activities and decisions. They act because they believe people with disabilities are able. In a similar way I admired this young man who was so intelligent, so calm and collected, and remarkably talented. I was in awe in the moment. However, when the excitement dissipated and that thrill turned into reality, I was deeply saddened. I believe that it is grossly unfair for such a talented young man to be socially bound by his physical circumstances.
Though he is in a wheelchair, he is incredibly competent and ambitious. However, persons with disabilities in Jamaica are not given many opportunities to display such talent and competence to the rest of the nation or world. Why should a young man who is so cogent and filled with potential be at a disadvantage in pursing his dreams? Why should he be subjected to the confines of the community simply because there are no adequate employment prospects for persons with disabilities in Jamaica? If you take a moment to ponder, you will also recognise that this lack of consideration is overarching; not limited to employment.
We do not frequently see business places catering to the needs of people with disabilities. There are no slopes to accommodate a wheelchair in many places of work and business, for example. There are no appropriate seating positions for persons with disabilities on our public transportation. Our homes and infrastructure do not facilitate and improve the lives of people with disability.
The Disability Act
On February 14, 2022, the Disabilities Act came into effect in Jamaica. The Act which was passed in 2014, took 8 years to be implemented. That, in and of itself, is an unfortunate lived experience for persons with disabilities. However, the Disability Act is the start. The Act is designed in such a way to advocate for equal opportunities for people with disability and abolish discrimination against them.
The Disabilities Act 2014 highlights the following key areas:
- The Provision of a Disability Certificate
- The Right to Education & Training
- The Right to Employment
- The Right to Adequate Healthcare and Accessible Facilities
- The Right to Housing and to enter Premises
- The Work of the New Jamaica Council for PWDs and the Disability Tribunal
- The Right to Access Public Passenger Vehicles
- The Right to Participate in Public Office and Political Life
Though the Act took so long to come to fruition, it is just the start. I wish to leave these nuggets of thoughts with you to ruminate on. So, as an entrepreneur, what are you doing to ensure an inclusive environment within your workspace? If you are a marketer, how do you ensure that people with disabilities are a considered part of your audience? As a landlord, how do you ensure a safe space conducive to housing a person with disability? If you are an architect, how do you ensure that safe structures are erected with the consideration of PWDs? As a human being, how do you enforce fairness in your space for PWDs?
Ultimately, it is absolutely important that we treat persons with disabilities with dignity; we show them respect and give them a fair opportunity to fulfil their fullest potential. People with disabilities are able so let’s act.