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Disabilities Act effective Feb 14

Published:Friday | October 8, 2021 | 12:06 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
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WHEN THE Disabilities Act finally takes effect on February 14, 2022, following Wednesday’s passage of the Disabilities Regulation, 2021, Resolution in Gordon House, where the Houses of Representatives sit, could find itself on the wrong side of law.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding raised the issue, after Minister of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda assured the House that this long-awaited piece of legislation would come into effect on Valentine’s Day next year.

“It is now intended that the act will come into effect on February the 14th, 2022,” he declared, admitting that after languishing for seven years, the regulations dealing with the Disabilities Resolution would now enable the Disabilities Act and all of its attendant parts to come into effect.

“It is unfortunate that it has taken such a long time but a lot of hard work has been done to bring it to this stage,” Samuda noted, and Golding agreed, reminding the House that the Disabilities Act had been passed under a People’s National Party (PNP) administration, at which time delays were expected.

The act, according to Golding, took significant work to get ready as well as to get passed.

“When it was passed, it was anticipated that it wouldn’t be brought into effect for a couple of years because one of the main things was that some codes (of practice) needed to be developed, but also to afford owners of buildings, both in the public sector and in the private sector, to make the necessary modifications, to ensure access to persons with disabilities,” he pointed out.

REASON FOR DELAY

Samuda explained that among the reasons the regulation had taken this long is in order to complete the organisational review and structure for the Jamaica Council of Persons with Disabilities, which will now be transformed into a body corporate, which means it will have to be funded from the public purse.

Passed in July 2014, the Disabilities Act proposes, among other things, that no employer should discriminate against a person on the grounds of disability if the person is qualified for the job. It also makes provision for persons with a disability to be entitled to the enjoyment of privileges, interest, benefits and treatments as every other Jamaican.

The bill, which had been in preliminary stages for over 10 years, received bipartisan support in the House when it was debated.

Labour and Social Security Minister Derrick Kellier, in piloting the bill, said some 10 per cent of Jamaicans are disabled, and Pearnel Charles, then opposition spokesman on labour, noting that 82 per cent of persons with disability are living below the poverty line, adding that every effort should be made to reverse this reality and remove discrimination. He said more effort was needed in relation to provisions for the modification of buildings to accommodate the needs of the disabled.

Golding is not convinced that despite the long passage of time, even work has been done in this regard.

“This building that we are in now is not friendly to the disabled. It is very difficult for persons with disabilities to come upstairs, there is no elevator ... . The question of access is real, the absence of ramps for persons with physical disabilities, rails on which they can hold, elevators for buildings with more than one storey, and so on. These are very important issues.”

The opposition leader pointed out that the PNP administration, working in collaboration with a Canadian university and a team from the University of Technology, had scoped out Gordon House with a view to seeing how the necessary adjustments could be made.

“Is about seven years ago that happened and the building remains more or less as it was then, which is a disappointing thing. I think for Parliament not to take the necessary steps to ensure that disabled persons can come here and listen to what’s being debated and to see for themselves what is happening, is a real indictment on our Parliament.”