Tue | Oct 16, 2018

Stop dehumanising the disabled

Published:Saturday | September 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

I am profoundly disheartened by our society's callous indifference to the plight of disabled Jamaicans. In Jamaica, a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities have limited or virtually no access to basic amenities and social services (e.g., education, health and housing), and also encounter formidable barriers to securing gainful employment.

In fact, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security very recently confirmed that approximately 85 per cent of persons with disabilities, who make up about 15 per cent of our country's population, are unemployed. This state of affairs is a serious cause for concern and requires urgent and targeted intervention by all policy and decision-makers to ameliorate it.

But beyond the more general impediments to full and equal inclusion in all areas of social life, persons who are physically incapacitated experience difficulties in safely manoeuvring on public sidewalks, crosswalks, roadways and other infrastructural developments which are not (and still have yet to be) constructed in a manner that accommodates their special needs.

Just last week, I witnessed at first hand just how difficult it can be for wheelchair users, who might not use public transportation, to safely access sidewalks in particular while they go about their business. On at least two separate occasions, and owing largely to their inability to access the sidewalks (which were obviously not constructed with them in mind), two wheelchair users were almost struck by a motor vehicle that had veered dangerously close to them.

NO CONCRETE STEPS

Persons with disabilities are entitled to the same fundamental rights which are guaranteed, without exception, to every human being. Unfortunately, while Jamaica was the first Caribbean country to formally recognise this by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, we have yet to take concrete steps towards ensuring that the fundamental human rights of disabled Jamaicans are meaningfully respected, protected and fulfilled.

The long-awaited implementation of the Disabilities Act - which was passed by the Senate in 2014, but has yet to be brought into force - will affirm our commitment to effectively securing and protecting the human rights of disabled Jamaicans, as well as promoting their holistic inclusion within the Jamaican society.

However, on a more fundamental level, lasting change will only be effected when we begin to show more empathy towards persons with disabilities, and treat such individuals in a manner that respects their inherent dignity and worth as human beings, recognising, too, that as Falasha Fitz-Henley pointed out in an excellent Gleaner column some years ago: "[T]he sad truth is that each one of us is just one step, one event, one health crisis, one accident away from a possible disability".

AMANDA QUEST

questamanda@hotmail.com