The Jamaican government has finally done something for the people it serves. In our backward political system the Disabilities Act has been tabled finally putting into law the end of discrimination and ensuring the civil rights and equal opportunity for people with disabilities. You can ask yourself, why has it taken so long? But before you ask such a question you have to remember that this is Jamaica where the only thing that goes with any modicum of swiftness is a police officer writing a traffic ticket.
The history of the path to full citizenship of the Disabled began back in 1981 when the impotent United Nations declared something called the UN “Decade of Disabled Persons”. In 1987, a global meeting of “experts” recommended that the UN General Assembly should draft an international convention on the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities. The political ‘experts’ were as usual on opposing sides of the debate as some saw the disabled as having a fair path in society while others thought otherwise. Politicians are always very good at arguing for people and issues they have no knowledge or ever experienced what the people they are debating go through.
It was not until December 2006 that the Treaty was finally ratified at the UN level, signed by the member countries except for a few,notably our big friend to the North and the Act came into effect in 2008. But individual governments had to initiate their own Act for their own country and it is to this that Jamaica had its own internal fights trying to convince the naysayers that disabled persons are people just like the able bodied people and not a sector of society that only gets help through ad hoc charitable events. They just do things differently, through no fault of their own.
Jamaica, this little island in the sun has an intrinsic cultural flaw in its DNA. We laugh at anyone that looks different , speaks differently or acts differently. I remember as a child numerous persons were ridiculed by us kids because we were ignorant. We may get some scolding but really it was not that serious. Our society, including the Government, look down on persons with disabilities with disdain and one blatant example is look at how we design our buildings, our schools, our churches, our apartmentS, whatever. Public places were not designed to accommodate persons with disabilities. In recent years there have been some improvement but it was not a national policy and if it was it was never enforced. Which brings me to the crux of the matter, enforcement.
Its not that we don’t have laws on the books that point to numerous inadequacies and discrimination in Jamaica. It is a fact that we do not enforce laws, period. The political experts will huff and puff and promise to blow your house down if you are caught breaking the law but is he enforcing the law? In a country that is still governed by who is who, where do you live, who are your parents, who do you know, what are your political connections, law enforcement comes down to these questions. It is therefore a travesty to think that this law will have any effect for the people it serves.
I hate to bring the hopes and aspirations of the disabled community to this simple fact but we have to face the brutal truth. We know the animal we are dealing with. Jamaica does not have the infrastructure in place to effectively and justifiably ensure that the disabled persons will achieve the civil rights they deserve. It is encouraging that some business have started to make a change before the Act was even tabled and some buildings now provide coded access for the disabled. It is also encouraging that the Combined Disabilities Association has not stopped fighting for their rights but this association has little bite in their bark and will need funds to establish an effective lobby to sustain its ideals. But the Jamaican population needs its own lobby to understand and change the cultural perception that being different means you are an outcast and a puppet for ridicule. And this is just one piece of the pie. There are other persons and organizations whose civil rights are violated in this country so whiter them?
There is no reason for Jamaica to pull its feet in joining the rest of the civilised world in ensuring its people enjoy human and civil rights. If the reason is our culture, well that can change if we want to change. As we move from 2104 and beyond our government , teachers and businesses must ensure the people of Jamaica are not left lagging behind the vast knowledge of information and social rebirth. We simply cannot be an island with backward thinking people in 2020 giving ourselves a reason for our backwardness by calling it a ‘third world’ problem. We choose to be ignorant to civil rights because we want to be ignorant. We choose not to extend civil rights to other members of the society because we still live under a system of white supremacy , failing to develop our own strategies like the white man did to ensure his society move ahead as one, educated and informed and through time and action become a so called first world nation. Our politicians are not our leaders to this promised land, this land of equality for all. We have to do it ourselves, together, with one aim, one purpose.
A reporter once asked a noted intellectual Asian to address the concerns of the Black man and his existence. Here is his response:
The INTERVIEWER: “And the Black man Mr Chin, what about his concerns?”
MR. CHANG: “He does not count into our situation. He is simply here. We do not hate the Black man. We just love the Asian man most. Real love–not cliche. We want to see Asian man happy, so we employ him. We eat together. We spend time with each other. We want his kids to be educated, so we invest in our own schools that offer our children the technical abilities to change the world’s power structure in our favor. We want to see the Asian man safe, so we purchase and organize our own communities. We want him to remain Asian, so we reduce the outside influence of others ideologies and cultures. While he fought to sniff behind the White man, the Black man has had the opportunity and every right in the world to do the same, but he chooses to indict people like me for not hiring him over my own brothers. For me to do this would be foolish and that would not be Asian love. In contrast, the Black man will fight for the right to be up under everyone else other than other Black people who he should feel the most love for. If our indifference to their situation make us racist, then what would you call the Black man’s indifference to his own situation?”
Why do I think that despite the attempt to pass this Act, the real life of the Act will be killed by our own bias and prejudices for the disabled? I hope I am wrong as I am not worried about the disabled. No, they have managed to ably live with little help from the government and country for years. It’s the people of Jamaica that concerns me, their stubborn and colloquial lifestyle that to this day we hide behind as our excuse for not doing the right thing. For me this attitude symbolises the true disability in a way the wheelchair does not.
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