Disabled Make Strides in Caribbean After Years of Neglect

The Disabilities Act was recently passed in Jamaica, marking a landmark moment in a region where resources and basic protections for the physically and mentally disabled are often scarce.

The recent passage of a long-awaited law in Jamaica marked a watershed moments for physically and mentally disabled people in the Caribbean.

Ushered in by Sen. Floyd Morris, the first blind president of Jamaica’s Senate, the Disabilities Act will offer more resources and basic protection, such as a ban on workplace discrimination and a special tribunal to rule on complaints made by disabled citizens, AP reports.

While Morris described the law as “a historic achievement for the roughly 163,000 disabled Jamaicans,” he noted that pervasive stigma against them still needed to be remedied.

"I would say 65 percent of the population still sees people with disabilities as charity cases,” he told the Associated Press.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of people with disabilities live in the developing world, where the discrimination and barriers to inclusion are most severe.

"Nowhere in the region is the problem of stigma and access to basic health services more serious than in Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest country,” Caribbean-based AP reporter David McFadden wrote. "The magnitude-7.0 earthquake in January 2010 amplified the problem, leaving thousands of people with lost limbs, some with multiple amputations.”

Patrick Senia, a Haiti-based field program director for the non-profit Handicap International, also pointed out that, without access to services, disabled people become a burden on families, which increases their vulnerability.

In Haiti and even the wealthier, more inclusive Caribbean countries, financial realities present the largest hurdle that citizens, advocates and lawmakers face when looking to implement any pro-disability legislation. Yet, that has not stopped young Aaron Logan of Jamaica from dreaming big.

"I am definitely going to be a doctor,” the 9-year-old with cerebral palsy told the AP. "I'm not sure what kind yet, but I do know that's what I will be.”

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(Photo: AP Photo/David McFadden)

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