Black Immigrant Daily News
Jamaica committed itself to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities through the passage of the Disabilities Act, 2014. This year, the island is celebrating the first anniversary of the operationalisation of the legislation.
The Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. It also promotes and protects the fundamental rights of persons with disabilities, ensuring that they can enjoy equal access to education, employment, healthcare, housing and transportation.
Reflecting on the operationalisation of the historic Act, CEO of the Digicel Foundation Charmaine Daniels said: “The Disabilities Act has guided a nationwide effort to place inclusivity, equality and accessibility at the forefront. The Act provides comprehensive protection of the inherent rights of persons with disabilities. “
Yet, Daniels noted that while the law has put in place certain provisions to safeguard and enhance the welfare of persons with disabilities, persons in that segment of society are still disenfranchised.
“Persons with disabilities face systems that were not designed to accommodate all people, ranging from the healthcare system to employment and education. By ensuring that no one gets left behind, Digicel Foundation is the leading corporate donor to the community, with a total spend of US$10.65 million since inception,” she said.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 10 per cent of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean are employed.
Daniels is calling on corporate entities to hire more persons with disabilities.
“We know that unemployment can deepen the challenges faced by persons with disabilities and is a major contributor to their social and economic level. We have opened our offices to show other corporate entities how we have made our spaces more inclusive. We have consistently employed persons with disabilities and made sure that they are able to attend and participate in all staff events by removing barriers to access. It has made a significant impact on the organisation’s culture of acceptance and inclusivity. Going forward, we hope to see more entities employing persons with disabilities,” she said.
In 2021, to spark a public discourse in preparation for the Disabilities Act, the Digicel Foundation shun light on workplace inclusion for those with special needs. Key stakeholders and speakers such as Wayne Chen, Dr Christine Hendricks, Senator Dr Floyd Morris, and Marilyn McKoy were invited to educate the public on the state of inclusivity and the need for more opportunities in the workplace.
In addition to the right to employment, the Disabilities Act promotes the right to education and training. The Act prohibits any educational or training institution from preventing a person from enrolling at or attending an institution because of his or her disability.
Stressing the importance of quality education for all persons, regardless of their ability, Daniels said: “No one should be overlooked and excluded from the education system. Digicel Foundation has built over 40 ramps in traditional public schools to make education more accessible for those with physical disabilities.”
“In January, we signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education and Youth for the construction of the Santa Cruz Special Education Centre. This centre will serve as a transitional programme for students with mild to severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. We will also establish a technical and vocational education and training programme to equip children to transition to the world of work and provide additional assessment support for students across the region.”
Daniels said the Foundation will continue to support the special needs sector.
She noted: “This year, we’ll be partnering with the Early Childhood Commission to establish two inclusive classrooms. We’ll also be looking at how we can assist in building therapy rooms across the island.”
“We support the efforts to strengthen the legislative framework governing persons with disabilities but we must recognise that the Disabilities Act is only the beginning. We must continue to play our part in ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected. Our work is not done,” Daniels said.