Measures are being put in place to help persons with disabilities cope better with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde, made the announcement at a ceremony to mark the opening of the National Disabilities Unit (NDU) Recreational and Rehabilitation Facility, ‘Maxwelton’, Lower Collymore Rock, St. Michael, on Friday, which was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Minister Forde told the attendees that this was a priority for her Ministry, as the pandemic had exacerbated many of the challenges the disabled were facing.
She highlighted inaccessibility to various spaces faced by those with severe mobility issues, and the communication barriers experienced by hearing and visually impaired persons as areas which require urgent attention.
Concern was also raised about their access to appropriately equipped technological devices to facilitate full online training and participation in programmes, and the shortfall of financial and other critical resources that have affected the support network for the most vulnerable.
“My Ministry, through the National Disabilities Unit, will continue to work with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to establish special provisions for persons with disabilities to have suitable access to testing. This will include preferential and priority treatment …. We will seek to put provisions in place to have an interpreter for the hearing impaired at vaccination sites at specific times,” Minister Forde stated.
She added that the NDU would also be further exploring the provision of transportation to and from the testing and vaccination sites.
“We will further work, through our own resources, and encourage donor agencies and non-governmental organisations to assist with meeting both the hardware and software technological requirements, in order to reduce the gaps in access to online learning platforms…. We have already started the review of financial support to organisations that assist the community of the disabled, with a view to ensuring that financial support is adequate to meet their needs,” she disclosed.
Reiterating that improving the quality of life for these individuals meant breaking barriers and ensuring equal access to education and employment, the Minister encouraged the organisations representing persons with disabilities to be vocal about the matters affecting their members.
To this end, Ms. Forde noted that innovative solutions were needed and all stakeholders had a role to play. “We cannot do this in a vacuum, and it is in recognition of this that we have been in discussion with the United Nations Development Programme to implement projects that add to our own efforts to improve the quality of life of the community of persons with disabilities. We want to train persons to refurbish wheelchairs and construct prostheses, along with integrating as many persons with disabilities in the various economic sectors, inclusive of entrepreneurships,” she stated.
The Minister of People Empowerment added that the data collected during the 2020 Population and Housing Census would be instrumental in updating the policies and strategic objectives to make them meaningful post COVID-19.
She also shared the vision for a special award to be bestowed on a person “with a disability, or a person who has worked tirelessly to advance the cause for the disabled”. “I prefer something that is prestigious, monetarily appropriate and deserving for the person identified….,” Minister Forde said.