Representatives from several public and private sector groups have come together, reaffirming their commitment to supporting the advancement of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
At a conference hosted by Digicel Foundation on Wednesday, April 11, representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, UNICEF, Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) among other groups in the field, exchanged ideas on how they could work more closely to ensure that PWDs are treated equally and are granted every opportunity to become productive citizens.
The event dubbed, ‘Conversations on Special Needs’, was held at the Jamaica Conference Centre, under the theme ‘Identifying, Creating and Maintaining Opportunities for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities’.
In reiterating the commitment of the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Shanhine Robinson, to preparing PWDs to become income earners, Senior Social Worker, Jacqueline Bennett shared that the government has been taking steps to facilitate greater inclusion, integration and empowerment of persons with disabilities in our society.
“We in the Ministry, strongly believe that if persons with disabilities are given equal opportunities, they too can become productive and independent citizens,” Bennett said on behalf of Minister Robinson.
In her address to the audience, Development Manager at the Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities, Marilyn McKoy, highlighted the importance of our students learning the value of inclusion and accepting each other’s differences. She mentioned that it is mutually beneficial for all students to learn about various disabilities to promote inclusion and acceptance. Ms. McKoy concluded that it is also important for teachers to understand disabilities in order to effectively instruct students who may have intellectual disabilities.
Ms. Lone Hvass, Deputy Representative from UNICEF Jamaica shared Mrs. McKoy’s sentiments.
“We believe that every child has a right to an education that fits his or her abilities and promotes his or her strengths. So we supported the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information in developing a curriculum for students with moderate to profound intellectual learning disabilities,” she said.
In highlighting the passion of leaders in the Special Needs sector, Chairman of the Digicel Foundation, Jean Lowrie-Chin, remarked, “We have made Special Needs a pillar of our work, and with every partnership we are more inspired by the students, families, teachers and fellow activists. We know the importance of showing respect for every human being, and we have been humbled by the courage and persistence of our special needs friends and colleagues.”
The conference was moderated by Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan CD, a Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrician. The audience also heard contributions from Senator Floyd Morris, Director of the UWI Centre for Disability Studies, Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, Olayinke Jacobs-Bonnick, Country Director at the Jamaica British Council and Radcliffe Richards, parent of a child with Downs Syndrome.