Taking a bigger step for children with disabilities in Jamaica

As Mark Connolly, UNICEF’s former representative in Jamaica once put it, “Paper reaching parliament does not change the life of a child. Action does.” That’s why UNICEF is partnering with the Digicel Jamaica Foundation and the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD). Together we want to ensure the full implementation of the Disability Act (2014) and reduce the risk of children with disabilities being left behind.

A credit to Jamaica is that in 2007 this country became the first in the world to sign the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). But domestically progress has been ‘inch-by-inch’ admits JCPD Executive Director Christine Hendricks, but she’s optimistic that progress is now being made. The JCPD is as an agency of the Ministry of the Labour and Social Security, which is backing the initiative.

Progress made, more to be done

“We want to hit the ground running because we know the value of identifying these children first of all,” says Hendricks. “Persons are recognising that persons with disabilities have value and they can make a contribution. If we start with them from childhood, it will give them a better start to move forward.”

The two-year project will strive to ensure that more children are registered with the JCPD. Better data collection and diagnosis should then see more children given appropriate assistance across all government services from education to health.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) has 580,000 persons registered as disabled in Jamaica. Currently, however, just 30,000 of them are registered with the JCPD, of whom 5,000 are children. Together we hope to both increase opportunities for disabled children but also to reduce incidents such as the tragedy of a deaf child who died in hospital care.

Ensure children with disabilities are heard

“Unfortunately, the healthcare provider thought that he was fussing and tied him up,” recounts Digicel Jamaica Foundation CEO, Dane Richardson: Eventually he passed away. And can you imagine what that child must have been going through, not being able to communicate? I keep telling that story because it’s important and to know that it happened and to ensure that it never happens again to anyone.”

children with disabilities, jamaica
Digicel Jamaica FoundationMark Connolly, UNICEF Representative in Jamaica; Dionne Jennings, Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security; Christine Hendricks, Executive Director of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD); Rebecca Tortello, Education Specialist at UNICEF Jamaica; Jennifer Spence-Silvera, Programme Officer – Education and Special Needs at the Digicel Jamaica Foundation; and Dane Richardson, CEO at the Digicel Jamaica Foundation.

Going beyond the data collection, UNICEF Education Specialist Rebecca Tortello explains: “The partnership will support efforts to focus more on better promoting skills training and coordinating the school to work transition of youth with disabilities. This is an area in which Jamaica has made some progress but also one in which we have a long way to go.”

National awareness campaign planned

A media campaign will also be launched about the rights of persons with disabilities to increase understanding and awareness. Collectively this work is also intended to strengthen the capacity of the recently formed umbrella advocacy organization, Jamaica Empowerment Partnership for PWDs (JEPP). The Digicel Jamaica Foundation and the JCPD are both JEPP members.

For UNICEF our involvement will build upon recent work supporting the development of a curriculum for children with moderate to severe learning disabilities; as well as supporting unified sports; and healthy athlete screening support for Special Olympics Jamaica.

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    1. Hi Elaine, we’re not recruiting volunteers. Instead we recommend that you contact the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) or the Council Of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS).

  1. I am the director for a non for profit that provide services to individuals with disabilities. We are funded by meducaid and would love to see how we can work on specified projects in Jamaica