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"The exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream"
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"The exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream"

Tamara McKayleOne can understand why so many disabled youths spend their lives in frustration having to depend on a system that does not recognize the depth of their struggle to be empowered citizens, writes Tamara McKayle 22, a television journalist and Jamaican Youth Ambassador for Disabilities at the National Center For Youth Development.

Vanessa is your typical young adult. At 25 years, she likes to watch television, go to the movies, hang with friends and have a good time. She loves receiving new clothes and jewellery and craves her own independence. She desires to make a positive contribution to society in a career of her choice.

There’s only one stumbling block in Vanessa’s path, albeit a gigantic one. She was born disabled. In her case physically challenged. How forlorn is it for her to be living in paradise-Jamaica, ‘the land of wood and water’, yet because of a setback not of her own doing, she cannot easily explore her country, or worse, thrive in being the best that she’s meant to be because of her limited opportunities.

One would think that in this day and age, the 21st century world that we now live in, that there would be greater policies and acts implanted for the interest and welfare for the most disadvantaged amongst us. Yet the disabled community especially the youth are often left behind.

Whilst other 25-year-olds are finishing university or are working hard in their careers making positive contributions to society, Vanessa like so many others has been overshadowed. According to a population census done in 1991, there were approximately 111,000 persons in Jamaica who can be regarded as having at least one disability. That is approximately 20 years ago and the numbers may have increased. What has not increased however, are the opportunities and the policies meted out to ensure that people with disabilities – in particular our youths – are included and given access to the same opportunities the average Jamaican has.

Vanessa comes from a lower middle class family who had to remove her from public school a decade earlier because the necessary infrastructure and resources were not in place. To date, these problems remain at large in public schools across the nation. Her family noted that whilst they have tried their best, their efforts seem in vain. Vanessa unfortunately, they mention, has suffered from serious bouts of depression which has led them to feeling frustrated and angry. Indeed, she is just one in thousands of cases. Yet government policies and plans have not been forthcoming.

The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities in Jamaica indicated that negative perception and attitude towards disability has resulted in the isolation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of society. As a result, they are faced with a number of problems, especially in the areas of education, training and employment – key areas critical to the holistic development and growth of an individual and of a nation.

Many may be unaware that Jamaica was the first country in the world to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Yet to date a Disabilities Act, which is said to have been in the making for several years now, remains at large. Additionally, a National Disabilities Bill now in its 10th draft was to be tabled before Parliament this year. This too, remains at large. How’s that for a country seeking developed status by the year 2030?

Whilst we laud the efforts that have been made by government, as earlier this year, for the first time a set of public buses specifically for people with disabilities were issued. Additionally, there are some private sector companies which have done much as part of their corporate social responsibility to give aid to the disabled community. This however is not enough. Policies have to be streamlined and implemented from the national level.

The head of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona-Floyd Morris, a former Senator who is visually impaired, has made major strides with his team in lobbying for inclusion and greater access, particularly for our disabled youth.

In recent times, just a few months ago, significant research done by that team on education among the disabled youth and their limited access to public schools was released to the public. The centre is likewise hoping that policies which have been in the workings for decades can be realised. Efforts have just begun by Morris and his team to equip public schools with computers with the requisite technology and software needed so that the blind and other disabled youth can have greater access to information.

The University of the West Indies Mona campus is perhaps the premier institution not only in Jamaica but in the Caribbean region in terms of its facilities, research and money being pumped into the development of the disabled youth. To date approximately 47 disabled students in total are in attendance at that institution getting a tertiary level education, and often staying on after for employment.

Yet 47, is a mere drop in the bucket. Employment opportunities for the Disabled youth are slim. The 2004 International Disability Rights Monitor for Jamaica revealed that the majority of people with disabilities in Jamaica are unable to find gainful employment. Factors they highlighted that prohibit their inclusion in the workforce are ‘discrimination, inaccessible workplaces, and the low levels of experience and training available to most people with disabilities.’

The report further detailed that the government is the top employer of people with disabilities, however even it has it failed to meet the National Policy on Disabilities’ recommendation that a minimum of five percent of government jobs should be filled by people with disabilities. Imagine, not even a mere five percent!

One can understand why Vanessa like so many other disabled youth spend their lives in frustration and depression having to depend on a system that does not seem to consider them or even recognize the depth of their struggle to assimilate in society and to be empowered citizens.

May the shift in our political climate here at home with a new leader and a new vision and hope provide that vision for the blind and create endless possibilities for our youth with disabilities.

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About me:

I am a Jamaica Youth Ambassador for Disabilities; a television host/journalist and final year undergraduate in Media and Communications at U.W.I Mona.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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