A Spanish Town-based organisation that supports children with disabilities and their parents is this week calling on corporate Jamaica and the wider citizenry to overlook prejudices against people with disabilities and donate more to the community.
“People don’t generally think disabled people can contribute to society. As such, they are more willing to invest in those considered normal and where they think they will get value for their money,” Sandrea Long-White, acting managing director at Community Based Rehabilitation Jamaica (CBRJ, told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.
The organisation is a merger of 3D Projects and Rural Services for Children with Disabilities. It offers psychosocial assessment and clinical or medical assessments; training for parents, health staff and teachers; home-based intervention; parent advocacy support; public education on disability issues; support for early childhood centres; and empowerment of parents to campaign for themselves and for the rights of their children.
However, arising from the lack of adequate funds, the services which were once available to 10 parishes have now been scaled down to four — St Catherine, Manchester, St Elizabeth and St James.
Of note, CBRJ is the only agency providing that sort of intervention in the parishes it currently serves.
Making the point that discriminatory acts against children with disabilities are sharply on the decline, Long-White said, “I remember when we started with some communities, we found some of the children tied up in foul coops or left outside.”
Still, she concedes, there is much work to be done in overcoming stigma.
“Many times we get the support only when someone with a disabled child is fighting, when someone in Government has a disabled child or see the need for more to be done,” said Long-White, who has been serving in the field for over 20 years.
Long-White’s organisation receives subventions from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, but as she explains, CBRJ depends heavily on volunteers and funding from corporate entities.
She stressed that it is important for people to understand that the funding doesn’t only help the organisation in terms of administrative costs; rather, it has a ripple effect on the children served, their caregivers, and communities.
She said: “The funding allows us to intervene with these children early and the earlier the better, as we are able to help them, teach them to be independent, and in turn it impacts their home life. Take for instance one boy in Westmoreland with cerebral palsy. We worked with them, taught the mother how to build a ramp and parallel bars. We taught the child how to use a walker. He was able to go to school, do his common entrance, go to high school, did CXC and did well in them.
“There are many like him who have gone on to school, graduated from university, found work, and are independent individuals. But when there is no funding, you get some who are in conditions where there is nothing we can do because of the period of no intervention,” she lamented.
According to Long-White, the situation begs the question of the equity of children’s rights to education.
“We often talk about ‘all children have rights’, but what about us? Do we have the same rights? So there’s the right to education, but what’s there to ensure that they have access to services?” the CBRJ head queried.
Dane Richardson, CEO of Digicel Foundation, which partnered with CBRJ on a renovation project carried out in concert with EdgeChem Jamaica Limited on Labour Day, explained that the decision to assist came after a conversation he had with Long-White at a recent conference.
“Sandrea spoke about the stigma and discrimination that many families face because they have a child that has a disability and what they do. As a result of that they don’t fully empower that child, whether socially, educationally, and any of the other resources they need to provide for that child. So with an organisation like CBRJ, it’s a no-brainer where we can give that effort to people who need it,” he said.
“The persons they serve are the poorest of the poor, some with very little education themselves, so it sort of fuels the thoughts others have and, sadly, many people will only put their efforts into what they think will translate into money,” Richardson added.
He used the opportunity to point out that success stories of disabled children graduating university are not atypical; they are just not talked about enough. He, too, called on corporate entities to offer funding to the organisation so that early intervention can be implemented, which will in turn give value for money.
“Someone may be suffering from a physical disability but cognitively they have no challenge. We can’t broad brush the disability community and think everyone is suffering and are grossly underdeveloped. Some are functioning in ways like everybody else and can have the same educational and employment opportunities; and that’s another issue that exists nationally, as many of these people have high levels of undergraduate and graduate degrees, but are unemployed,” he said.
Richardson reported that the foundation will be seeking to work with CBRJ’s Manchester centre in hopes of reaching more adolescents and children with disabilities in that area.
“We are in discussions with CBRJ and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to see how we can work with children who CBRJ caters to mostly, which is the moderate to grossly disabled children, physically and intellectually. The idea is how to cast the net wide enough so that more people can benefit from the services they deserve,” the Digicel Foundation head told the Observer.