Mon | Nov 20, 2017

Editorial | Enabling the disabled

Published:Monday | November 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Just over a week ago, Floyd Morris was among the more than 3,000 members of the graduate class of 2017 at the University of the West Indies at Mona. But this wasn't Mr Morris' first or second degree. It was his third: a PhD in political science.

A few days later, Mr Morris, not yet 50, launched his memoirs - an event attended by three former Jamaican prime ministers, among scores of other invitees. Floyd Morris has served as junior minister in the Jamaican Government as well as president of the Senate. One would say that Mr Morris is a high achiever.

What makes Floyd Morris different, especially in the context of Jamaica, is that he is blind, and has been for 28 years. With his education and life experiences, this, perhaps, makes him a good fit for his current job as director for the Centre for Disabilities Studies at UWI, Mona.

"Without sight, I was already facing what could be a cruel, uncaring world," Mr Morris said in a newspaper interview after receiving his PhD. "Now, without any academic certification, my immediate future seemed entirely hopeless. As Jamaicans would say, 'mi corner dark' - literally."

 

MORRIS' STORY RESONATES WITH J'CANS

 

Floyd Morris' story, especially the prospects of a dark corner or variants thereof, will resonate with more than 400,000 Jamaicans, or the estimated 15 per cent of the island's population, who suffer from some form of disability, including 13-year-old Britannia Stephenson, who lives in the western Jamaica parish of Hanover.

She suffers from a brain disorder that prevents her from walking and has kept her in a wheelchair since birth, which, of course, doesn't mean she is stupid. After her Grade Six Achievement Test earlier this year, Stephenson should have started secondary school at Hopewell High in September, but she stayed home for two months. The school had no ramps to accommodate her wheelchair.

She was transferred to Anchovy High School in nearby St James, but that involved a longish, and for her parents, relatively costly daily commute, which they couldn't afford. Since Stephenson's case became a public matter, the education ministry intervened. She will be back at Hopewell High, with the support of a school aide to help with her needs.

 

ASSISTED BY MANY

 

These cases - Mr Morris' achievement of much with, he admits, the assistance of many; of Stephenson's challenges as she starts in life - come against the backdrop of last week's launch of a campaign to promote Jamaica's Disabilities Act, passed three years ago, with the aim of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibiting discrimination against them.

The Disabilities Act also formalised the legal basis of the Jamaican Council for Persons with Disabilities.

This law was talked about for two decades before its passage. This newspaper supports its intent and the campaign for its promotion. We endorse, too, the sentiment expressed by the minister for labour and social security, Shahine Robinson, that too many Jamaicans are ignorant of the potential and skills that reside in Jamaica's disabled population. Hopefully, with this campaign, they will become aware.

But while knowing what disabled persons have accomplished and can accomplish is of itself good, they will be unable to achieve their potential in the absence of a physically enabling environment - such as ensuring that there are wheelchair ramps at workplaces, at public buildings, and at schools so that students don't have to stay away from class for two months, or forever. That is the urgent next step of this journey.