2001 Observance of the
International Day of Disabled Persons
United Nations expert group meeting on disability-sensitive policy and
programme monitoring and evaluation
UNHQ, New York, 3-5 December 2001
By Monica Bartley, December 2001
Over the past 10 years significant strides have taken place in the disability movement
in the Caribbean region. The movement has evolved from that of a charitable rehabilitation
model to that of self-advocacy by persons with disabilities. This has been quite evident
in the visibility of persons with disability in society. This change has resulted from the
combined efforts of the government and non-governmental organizations. However there is
need for a comprehensive evaluation in terms of the measurement of the impact of policies
and programmes implemented to determine the extent to which the quality of life of persons
with disability has changed. This is compounded by the fact that various organizations are
implementing programmes towards achieving the goal of equalization of opportunities for
persons with disabilities.
Prior to 1981 in many countries in the Caribbean region, services for persons with
disabilities were limited, so policies evolved more in response to the demands of local
self-advocates driven by networking with international organizations like Disabled
Peoples' Organization. The lack of data for planning and development of policy comes into
sharp focus, as there is a reluctance by both the public and private sector to put in the
necessary infrastructure as the feeling exists that not enough persons would utilize such
facilities. This view however, was counteracted through strong advocacy by disabled
persons, in the absence of statistical data to support the need. Although significant
changes have taken place over the period being reviewed there is insufficient data to
evaluate the progress made.
There is a well established immunization programme which is sustained through vigilance
and constant monitoring as experience has shown that when the levels are low a polio
epidemic may reappear as happened in the early eighties.
There are other programmes aimed at preventing impairments through education nutrition,
and health care opportunities. Government for example, instituted a food stamp program to
assist pregnant mothers and young children as well as emphases on early detection of
chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, have led to better management of
these diseases, which can result in disability.
More recently motor vehicle accidents are a contributory factor to the number of
disabilities, which resulted in laws being enacted to underpin the need for ensuring that
preventative measures are in place and adhered to. These include the seat belt law of
November 2000. Also the phasing out of leaded gasoline, which impacted, on the
Efforts in rehabilitation continue through various programmes offered by both the
public sector and NGO's. There is one specialized institution for rehabilitation of
physically disabled persons with smaller units in major public hospitals in the country.
The NGO's contribution is quite significant also in particular the special schools for
example, the Salvation Army School for the Blind, (catering for children) and the Jamaica
Society for the Blind that offers mobility and other rehabilitation programmes for adults.
The acquisition of technical aids and appliances has improved to a marked extent
subsidized by government through the Rehabilitation Centre as well as from the assistance
given by varied donors such as the Jamaican based "Food for the Poor". However
the matter of affordability is still a problem particularly for persons in the rural areas
who do not have easy access to the services provided.
In the last decade there has been something of a revolution in the approach to
provision of services. An increasing recognition has developed that needs can be met by
utilizing community resources rather than the traditional, centralized, specialized and
costly institutional services offered in more developed countries hence the focus on
Community Based Rehabilitation. There are three such organizations one government and two
non-governmental offering such services in Jamaica.
Although considerable progress has been made in this area over the past 20 years the
number of children still underserved is very high. There is a severe unmet need for
readily accessible psychological assistance in the schools. Some disabilities particularly
mental retardation speech and visual are often not recognized. This may be related to the
accessibility of services, which is very poor in most rural parishes in the Caribbean.
The availability of new technology which while opening up new opportunities can have a
negative impact in terms of the ability of most persons to obtain such particularly in
developing countries where resources are scarce. In fact to date very few persons have
been able to access this. Ownership of most of these types of equipment is limited to
institutions such as University of the West Indies for the accommodation of visually and
hearing impaired students.
Equalization of opportunities - integration into society
Several organizations of and for persons with disabilities were established since IYDP
in 1981. Over the period they have been instrumental in bringing about change by
advocating for the rights of disabled persons. This process resulted in heightened
awareness and sensitization of the needs of disabled persons as well as some move towards
integration in the society. However although there has been some measure of progress there
is still a far way to go as barriers towards access to education, employment, buildings to
name a few still exist which has resulted in the majority living a life of poverty.
Most of the Governments in the region are now aware of the issues and do provide some
measure of support. In fact most of them are in the process of preparing disability
policies however, due to lack of resources not much funding is allocated to disability
A National Policy on Disability based on the Standard Rules was implemented in
September 2001 in Jamaica outlining the various goals, objectives and strategies with the
aim of achieving equal opportunities for person with disabilities. Some of the strategies
are being implemented by various organizations but the extent to which the goals are being
met are not being measured in a meaningful way. Adequate monitoring mechanisms have not
been put in place as well as a coordinated approach is required for full implementation.
Accessible transportation is one of the major problems for the disabled especially
persons living in the rural areas. Concessionary bus fares, were introduced but the buses
are not accessible. In an effort to address this situation two buses equipped with
wheelchair lifts were designated to transporting persons with disabilities and the aged in
the metropolitan areas. The rural areas do not enjoy this benefit. Integration with the
wider public is not facilitated as the service is extended to caregivers and relatives
Access to education is one of the major impediments faced by persons with disabilities.
Over the period significant advances have been made in the area. The Ministry of Education
has established a Special Education Unit, which address the specific needs of the sector
and is presently in the process of developing a policy. There is however in existence a
White Paper on Education which includes policies relating to children with disabilities.
A Braille unit was set up to produce textbooks in Braille and large print for visually
impaired persons. This has facilitated children with visual impairments to sit all
national exams along with other students. This is used for bench marking as well as for
placement in secondary schools as long as they are capable. Provisions are also made for
children with learning disabilities to allow them to complete the examinations under
special conditions. The matter of access has also been addressed, as all new schools being
constructed now are being made accessible for wheelchair users.
Prior to the mid-nineties very few persons attained tertiary level education. The
University of the West Indies has taken steps to address this by setting up a Committee
for Students with Special Needs. To ensure that adequate proportion of persons with
disabilities in the relevant age cohort to the non-disabled attend the university. A
survey was done in the secondary schools to determine the number of students with
disabilities, with a view to assisting the students with matriculation requirements for
the university. Since then there has been a marked increase in the number of students with
disabilities entering and graduating from the university. It has been noted that there are
more blind and visually impaired students enrolled in the university which could be as
result of blind children having better access to education at the primary level through
the School for the Blind, a residential facility, while physically disabled children are
faced with the problem of inaccessible school buildings and high transportation cost to go
to school. It is not clear how many of the persons who have graduated from the university
have obtained employment.
The matter of affordable and accessible housing is another problem faced by disabled
persons. This was addressed to some extent by a special provision of government for a
percentage of houses in each scheme, constructed by one of its agencies, to be allocated
to persons with disabilities. Although this benefit is offered not many persons are able
to take up the offer, as they do not satisfy the financial requirements.
The Abilities Foundation, a vocational training center for persons with disability, was
established in 1991. It offers a comprehensive skills training program to meet the needs
of the entire spectrum of young disabled adults. Each year an average of thirty persons
graduate from the institution but only a small number have been successful in finding
More recently an information technology training programme has been introduced with a
view to preparing persons for jobs in the developing Information Technology sector.
Employment is a major area of concern for persons with disabilities as only a few
persons have been able to secure jobs. A number of factors contribute to this, such as
lack of training and inaccessible buildings and accommodation on the job.
The problem of access predominates throughout the region. If ramps are built for access
the interior of buildings are still inaccessible so the presence of a ramp is not a true
indication of accessibility. In Jamaica a draft of the amended building code is under
review for a number of years. Access for hearing impaired persons is still limited also
the production of alternate material for the blind.
Other aspects of the programme are being implemented by the various governmental and
Although many persons are not aware of the formal UN programme there is heightened
awareness to the extent that various aspects of the programme are being carried out in
many countries by both government and non-governmental organizations. How do we evaluate
progress being achieved towards the programme policy goals and objectives? What is
required now is information to assess the current situation. There is the need to
establish a set of indicators to compare the situation of persons with disabilities which
will help to determine the priorities for the future.
The need for data for planning and implementation as well as evaluation cannot be over
emphasized. The 1991 census provided baseline data and the 2000 round is in progress so we
have not had the opportunity to make comparisons of the data. The data from the census
however is not accepted by the disability community, which thinks that the number is
understated. In light of this there is the need for up to date registers to supplement the
data. There is also the need for surveys as well as standard measures to allow for
comparison of the data.
The next priorities should be in the following areas.
- A coordinated approach is required towards the implementation of the World Programme of
- Countries should develop national policies with the corresponding legislation where it
does not exist.
- The new WHO classification and definitions need to be disseminated widely to
Statisticians, NGO's and researchers .
- There is need for Sample surveys-quantitative and qualitative analyses. especially
during inter-censal periods
- There is need for public education
- Funding resources for developing programmes and the strengthening of disability
|United Nations (1983)
||World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons.
|Marigold J. Thorburn
|Practical Approaches to childhood Disabilities in Developing Countries.
|Ministry of Labour & Social Security (Jamaica)
||National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (November 2000).
* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily
represent those of the United Nations Secretariat. This document has not been formally
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