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EDITORIAL: Journey Toward Disabilities Act Compliance

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14 2024 - KINGSTON, JAMAICA: Enacted in 2014 and coming into effect on February 14, 2022, the Disabilities Act, a pivotal legislation, has been instrumental in safeguarding and enhancing the welfare of persons with disabilities (PWDs) across Jamaica.

At its core, the Disabilities Act embodies the principles of equality, dignity, and respect for all individuals, irrespective of their abilities. It aims to foster a society where PWDs are not only recognized as equal citizens but are also empowered to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination.

One of the fundamental objectives of the act is to ensure that PWDs can participate fully and inclusively in all aspects of national life. This includes access to education, where every individual, regardless of disability, has the right to pursue learning and development opportunities. The act prohibits educational institutions from denying enrollment based on disability and mandates the provision of necessary support to facilitate unrestricted access to facilities. Giving children, especially those with a disability, access to education allows them to self-actualize and maximize their potential.

The recent handover of Braille machines to the Salvation Army School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Children by the Digicel Foundation, exemplifies the power of collective action in facilitating access to education for blind students. With over 100 Braille machines provided to the school, this initiative addresses a critical shortage, ensuring that students can engage fully in their learning journey. What's more inspiring is the widespread support garnered from over 35 sponsors, signalling a growing recognition within corporate Jamaica of the importance of inclusive education. I want to give a special shout-out to the newly launched Open Door Jamaica Foundation, led by Executive Director, Dr. Terri-Karelle Reid. Open Door will join the Digicel Foundation as one of the few foundations in Jamaica to focus on enhancing the welfare of PWDs.

As we celebrate the achievements of the past two years, it's crucial to acknowledge that the grace period provided for the country to implement infrastructure and plans for PWDs ends this year on February 14. Non-compliance with the Act carries consequences, including facing a Cabinet-appointed Tribunal tasked with addressing breaches.

I must recognize companies, such as Digicel, for their proactive role in driving meaningful change. Leveraging insights from accessibility experts and engaging directly with PWDs, Digicel has implemented modifications to ensure that its premises are wheelchair-friendly, with ramps, wide doorways, and accessible restrooms.

As a country, we must remain vigilant and proactive in ensuring the Disabilities Act's full implementation. True progress lies in the collective effort to dismantle barriers, challenge stereotypes, and foster a culture of inclusion where every individual's potential can flourish.

Jodi-Ann McFarlane

Jodi-Ann McFarlane is the Senior Operations Manager at the Digicel Foundation.

Digicel Foundation | Jamaica

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