More power for the disabled

MORE than one year after The Disabilities Act, 2014, took effect, the members of the body to address complaints by people with disabilities has finally been named.

Minister with responsibility for information Robert Morgan announced the members of the Disabilities Rights Tribunal during a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday.

Morgan told journalists that the tribunal is to be chaired by attorney-at-law Emile Leiba with Roxanne Kidd-D’Aguilar as the deputy chair.

Other members of the committee are Nadine Allen, Dr Hixwell Douglas, Christine Abbot-Rodriquez and Philmore Turnbull.

The Disabilities Rights Tribunal is the body that has been put in place to settle complaints that have to do with discrimination and other breaches of the Disabilities Act.

A three-member division of the tribunal, led by the chair or deputy chair, will normally hear the complaints and decide the case either for the person with disability, or the person or organisation against whom the complaint has been made.

The tribunal will then make an order as it thinks fit, having reviewed the evidence presented based on the rights of both parties as stated in the Disabilities Act.

Morgan’s announcement came days after Opposition spokeswoman on labour and social security, Dr Angela Brown Burke, chided the Government over its failure to set up the tribunal.

Making her contribution to the 2023/24 Sectoral Debate in Parliament last Wednesday, Brown Burke noted that while the Disabilities Act was passed in 2014 and enacted in February 2022, the Disabilities Rights Tribunal, which would afford Jamaicans an opportunity to have their complaints heard and resolved, was not yet operational.

“Without this important avenue of redress, the Disabilities Act is a paper tiger and a symbolic move, nothing else,” charged Brown Burke as she declared that the next People’s National Party (PNP) Government will prioritise the needs of persons with disabilities.

She noted that in Jamaica, people with disabilities are at a higher risk of poverty due to limited employment opportunities, discrimination, and inadequate social protection.

“The PNP will address these issues when we form the next Government,” declared Brown Burke, who also pointed to UNICEF’s Situational Analysis of Persons with Disabilities in Jamaica Report entitled “I am able”, which indicates that “Persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the poorest, unemployed, low waged and those with low health status and lower levels of educational achievement”.

“It is true that this is not unique to Jamaica. However, in Jamaica, persons with disabilities are faced with issues of stigma, discrimination, marginalisation and social exclusion and are often forced to live in the margins of society,” said Brown Burke as she argued that members of the disabled community often feel neglected by policymakers.