What is the Problem With Implementing the Disabilities Act?

September 21st, 2017

Yesterday I attended a lunchtime information session at the offices of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Jamaica. Executive Director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) in Jamaica, Dr. Carolyn Gomes and Rodje Malcolm of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) gave us a succinct presentation on the state of human rights on the island.

It was enlightening.

The discussion covered all the key aspects of human rights in Jamaica – progress made, the negatives, and the downright ugly. One of the points made was that the Disabilities Act of 2014 was passed, but because no regulations are in place it has not been implemented, three years later.

That is right. An Act passed in Parliament that will protect the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in Jamaica has still not come into force.

Why? Are disabled people somehow very low on the priorities list – not just for the current administration but for successive administrations before this one? Or are the provisions of the Act too weighty and complex for our civil servants to work through? Or is it that the provisions that would have to be made for the disabled community are too costly and hard to implement?

In the Throne Speech on April 14 this year, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen promised us that “the Government will be moving to fully implement the Disabilities Act this year. This will be achieved through the development of the regulations and codes of practice; establishment of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities as a body corporate; and establishment of the Disabilities Rights Tribunal.”

I am not sure what “this year” means. If it is this calendar year – well, we only have two months or so left before our hard-working Parliament starts winding down again for Christmas. If it is the fiscal year, there is still some hope. We have until March, 2018. Or rather, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has until next March to get the job done.

Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Shahine Robinson (left), addresses the media after a tour of the Early Stimulation Programme (ESP) multipurpose facility on Hanover Street, on Thursday (June 8). At right is Vice-President of Countries at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Alexandre Meira da Rosa. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson addresses the media after a tour of the Early Stimulation Programme multipurpose facility on Hanover Street, on June 8. At right is Vice-President of Countries at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Alexandre Meira da Rosa. (Photo: JIS)

Meanwhile, the IDB itself is providing approximately J$87 million for a project to improve access and coverage for people with disabilities, under the Integrated Social Protection and Labour Programme. This includes the expansion of facilities at the Stimulation-Plus Early Childhood Development Centre (STIM-PLUS) in Rockfort, Kingston and an Early Stimulation Programme (ESP) multipurpose facility on Hanover Street, downtown Kingston. (I am wondering how disabled citizens in the rural areas will fare, by the way).

The World Bank reported last year:

Around 200,000 Jamaicans live with a disability, however they are disproportionately affected by poverty and unemployment.

In fact, only a very small percentage of Jamaicans with disabilities are actually employed (less than one tenth, I believe), and there are often complaints that the private sector does not hire enough disabled people. Little or nothing seems to be done about this. The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica does not seem to be particularly concerned.

The World Bank goes on to outline the important provisions of the Act. What could be more critical and fundamental for the welfare of this group…

Once fully implemented, the Act promises to:

  • reinforce and promote acceptance of the principle of equal fundamental rights for people with disabilities

  • promote individual dignity and autonomy of people with disabilities;

  • ensure full and effective participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in society; and

  • prevent or prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities.

One ray of light: I applaud the Digicel Foundation for its efforts to fill the enormous, yawning gaps in our Government’s provision for disabled people. It tells you something when you realise how many Government offices (including Parliament itself) are completely inaccessible. Digicel Foundation’s 5K Run – on Saturday, October 7 at 7:00 p.m. from Digicel’s downtown headquarters – will raise millions more to help non-governmental organisations like the Jamaica Autism Support Association and Mustard Seed Communities continue to provide desperately needed services. What if the Foundation was not focusing on special needs on a continuous basis?

 

Meanwhile, perhaps Minister of Social Security Shahine Robinson can give us an update on the status of the Disabilities Act. I hope they are working hard at the Ministry to make this a reality.

Any of us could become disabled at any time, by the way. A car crash, a sudden illness, a crisis… It could happen to any one of us.

Hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans deserve better than this. Too many words. Time to implement!

 

I would like to thank Therese Turner Jones and the awesome team at the IDB Caribbean Office in Kingston for offering the opportunity for group discussions on issues of national importance. A recent session at the Ministry of National Security was disappointing in that the Permanent Secretary, who was expected to address us, backed out at the last minute, for no clear reason. I was not impressed. Nevertheless, I do greatly appreciate the IDB’s making the effort to enlighten us on these matters, and hope this will continue.

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