There is a global thrust towards including and integrating persons with disabilities in the mainstream of society. This has intensified since the establishment of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 by the United Nations. One foundational issue addressed in these documents is that of access to public facilities and mobility. In this article, I assessed the situation of the Anglophone Caribbean, using the city of Kingston Jamaica as the point of departure. Kingston is the largest city in the Anglophone Caribbean and acts as a gateway to other destinations in the region. It has a population of approximately 1 million and there is a high concentration of persons with disabilities living in this geographical space.
"Making our cities smarter and more inclusive will become increasingly important in the next decades. Current projections are that two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities by 2050, and with an ageing population comes higher levels of ill-health, impairment and disability. Futurists, tech visionaries and urban stakeholders have been talking about "smart cities" for a number of years but smarter, accessible cities promise to be more inclusive for every citizen – and could transform the lives of those with disabilities" (Christopherson, 2016, Para. 1).
This statement is indicative of where the world is heading and what it is conceived to be within another couple of years. Irrespective of its ablest rhetoric, it presents tremendous opportunities for the greater inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in their societies. Modern technologies have been developed and continue to develop to facilitate greater inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in their societies (Lafayette, 2018). It is exciting and presents tremendous hope for persons with disabilities. Developing countries must get on board to ensure that they are not left behind in this new epoch. As such, greater efforts must be made to empower and transform the lives of persons with disabilities and this has to be done through deliberate policy and legislative actions to create access to public facilities, access to modern technologies and access to information.
In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released its latest report on the situation of persons with disabilities across the world. The report among other things, estimated that there are over 1 billion citizens with disabilities living worldwide. Of this number, approximately 80% are living in developing countries (WHO, 2011). For those persons with disabilities who reside in developing countries, they do so in very decrepit conditions as most of them are unemployed and live below the poverty line (World Bank, 2016). The problems confronting persons with disabilities in developing countries are largely stimulated by the inaccessible nature of these societies. Public infrastructure is not built with the requisite facilities to accommodate these individuals (ECLAC, 2017). This is an existential challenge for persons with disabilities in the Anglophone Caribbean and it is this problem I seek to assess in this research paper.
Recognising the extensive accessibility challenges confronting cities within the Anglophone Caribbean, in this research paper I take a qualitative look at the situation in the Caribbean, with the capital of Jamaica, Kingston, being used as the point of departure. Countries within the Anglophone Caribbean came out of a similar colonial construct and most of the cities within the region took on an identical development trajectory (Beckford, 1988). The political culture of these countries is fairly homogeneous and therefore it is not fallacious to draw conclusions from assessing one of the cities within the region based on observations and experiential knowledge.
"Cities within the Anglophone Caribbean are mostly inaccessible to persons with disabilities and the inaccessibility is grounded in their colonial past."
In this research paper I argue that most of the Caribbean cities are inaccessible to persons with disabilities and this inaccessibility has its genesis in colonialism. I will look at some critical institutions that form the core of modern cities and determine whether or not they have built in accessible features for persons with disabilities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are used as benchmarks to guide the assessment. These are two specific international agreements that all countries within the Caribbean have agreed to and they have specific obligations and targets to be achieved within the context of disability and accessibility.
In conducting this assessment, I utilized a purely qualitative approach. Consequently, the philosophy of interpretivism was used to guide the research. Interpretivism gives the researcher the opportunity to formulate meaning based on interviews, observations and experiences (Dudovskiy, 2018). This author is blind and has tremendous experience in the subject of accessibility for persons with disabilities. I developed glaucoma in 1983 and got totally blind in 1989. I got actively involved with the community of persons with disabilities in 1991 when I became a member of the Jamaica Society for the Blind (JSB). My activism has seen me involved in several activities to advance the lives of persons with disabilities. Ostensibly, these include among other things: the signing and ratifying of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007; the passage of the Disabilities Act in 2014; the passage of the Building Act in 2018 and efforts to improve access and inclusion of children with disabilities in the Jamaican Education System.
The opportunity is thus presented for the author to drive research on the population of persons with disabilities. It is here that the author's experiences as a person with a disability and policy maker are conflated with standard research epistemology. The research paradigm of interpretivism thus becomes relevant and applicable here. The meanings formulated from the research study are derived from elite interviews, observations and personal experiences.
Admittedly, my close involvement and association with the community of persons with disabilities can cause the research study to be treated as subjective. However, in order to militate against this, I adhered to strong personal ethical principles and to those of the UWI to which I am contracted. Furthermore, secondary data sources are integrated in the analysis to substantiate some of the arguments I have presented.
Over a six months period, I visited and observed a number of institutions and facilities in the city of Kingston to see how accessible they are for persons with disabilities. These institutions and facilities cut across the spectrum of private and public sectors and therefore give a lucid and unassailable indication as to the state of access for members of this vulnerable group in the city. A list of the institutions and facilities are cited in Appendix A.
Visits were made to these institutions and facilities between February and August 2017. A maximum of three hours were spent at these institutions/facilities at any point in time.
During this time my observations were concentrated on capturing information on:
- Accessible bathrooms;
- Elevators with braille inscription or speech and light to signal the deaf;
- Buses with lifts to accommodate wheel-chair users and
- Attitudes of individuals to persons with disabilities.
I used a small Surface Pro Laptop to write down the information at each location. The laptop is equipped with the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) software so that I can independently navigate the computer without the assistance of anyone. Such is the power of modern technology that is inclusive and empowering for persons with disabilities who can afford it.
Data gathered from these observations coupled with secondary and archival sources such as the Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica Observer and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) have been integrated to form the arguments presented in this research paper. They have been conflated in what I call the 'Morris Accessible Scale for Cities', details of which I have outlined further in this research paper.
Important to this methodological approach is the use of colonial and post-colonial frameworks as means of analyzing the situation of access for persons with disabilities in the Anglophone Caribbean. Consequently arguments from a number of leading Caribbean scholars were consulted and integrated in the paper to present the case that the state of inaccessibility in the Anglophone Caribbean for persons with disabilities is grounded in their colonial past.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
In 2006, the United Nations (UN) adopted the CRPD. This global treaty is the gold standard for how persons with disabilities are treated in their society. It reaffirms certain fundamental rights that were previously entrenched in various UN treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights (United Nations, 1948). Article 9 of the CRPD is of most significance to this paper as it focuses on the issue of accessibility. It states:
To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:
- Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces;
- Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services (United Nations, 2006).
Article 9 gives an indication as to what are the factors that should be dealt with in creating an accessible society for persons with disabilities and the lead role governments are required to play. Article 9 however, further postulates some specific issues that must be addressed in making societies accessible to persons with disabilities. Article 9, 2 opines:
States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to:
- Develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;
- Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;
- Provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities;
- Provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understand forms;
- Provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public;
- Promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information;
- Promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;
- Promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost (United Nations, 2006).
If these guidelines are utilised and implemented by governments, they will go a far way in transforming and making cities and communities accessible for persons with disabilities. This is why they have been included in the SDGs for countries to work progressively to realise by 2030.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, the UN approved the SDGs. The SDGs never specifically mentioned persons with disabilities. However, some of the targets associated with the 17 goals, specifically included persons with disabilities. Goal 11 is of particular importance to this research paper. It states: "Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable" (United Nations, 2015). The specific targets relating to persons with disabilities under Goal 11 are:
- By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
- By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
- By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
- By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities (United Nations, 2015).
Based on the CRPD and the targets set in the SDGs, I extrapolated some basic features that must be present for a city to be categorised as accessible. I regard these as the Morris Scale for Accessible Cities and there are seven such basic features. They are features that persons with disabilities cannot do without on a daily basis and must be present for the goals and objectives of the CRPD and SDGs to be realised. These are:
- Accessible housing;
- Accessible public transportation;
- Accessible roads and sidewalks;
- Accessible green spaces;
- Accessible shopping spaces;
- Accessible public facilities such as schools, health centres and other institutions of government that offers services to citizens and
- Accessible workplaces.
In recognition of these basic stylised features, I will venture in an assessment of the city of Kingston to see how it would stand up to being categorised as an accessible city. But before this is done, the historical context of the development of the cities within the Anglophone Caribbean must be brought under the microscope.
Colonialism and Construction of Cities in the Anglophone Caribbean
According to Kohn & Eddy (2017) colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. Colonial rule involves the conquest and control of other people's land and goods. It involved an exploitative relationship where the colonial powers occupy and extract resources from the colonised country. Slavery was a feature of this exploitative and dehumanising relationship (Beckford, 1988). I say dehumanising because punishment such as torture, amputation of limbs and blinding of eyes were regular punishments exacted to slaves for perceived wrong doings (Higman, 1995). All of this contributed to the growth of a community of persons with disabilities whose lives were transformed into further misery as there were no facilities to accommodate them (Kennedy, 2015). In fact, Shaun Grech has argued that the reason for 80% of persons with disabilities living in the global South and experiencing extreme forms of poverty is because of these countries colonial experience and racism (Grech, 2012).
Jamaica is situated in the Caribbean and is a part of the global South. Like all Caribbean countries, Jamaica went through a particular colonial experience (Buddan, 2001). From 1494 to 1962, the island was subject to colonial rule by both the Spanish and British. Such colonial experience witnessed the profound exploitation and appropriation of the wealth of indigenous Caribbean citizens. Undoubtedly, this experience has left permanent scars on Caribbean societies (Beckles, 2013). Beckles opines that the crimes of the colonial masters have left lasting and damaging effects in the psychological, material and social conditions of those victimised and on generations of their progeny (Beckles, 2013). Such permanent scars have stretched and impacted on persons with disabilities residing in the region. In fact, from the very outset of slavery, blackness was treated as a disabling condition and this explains the way these individuals were treated (Kennedy & Newton, 2016).
To compound these diabolic acts, public facilities such as buildings were not built to accommodate these individuals with disabilities. The colonial authorities never had any specific legislation to deal with accessibility issues for persons with disabilities. Instead, laws were formulated giving European slave owners unlimited powers to punish the enslaved and at their own discretion (Kennedy & Newton, 2016).
At first, the Spanish came in 1492 and this lasted until 1655. The Spanish brought with them their brand of architecture which at the time was never inclusive of persons with disabilities. There were no ramps to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities and no bathroom facilities for these vulnerable individuals. That was the era in which negative attitudes towards persons with disabilities were at its pinnacle and these individuals were isolated from the mainstream of society.
When the British came in 1655, they too brought their brand of architecture and government (Beckford & Witter, 1980). Over time, most of the Spanish architecture was replaced. Indeed, the British were responsible for removing the political capital of the island from Spanish Town to Kingston in 1872. But the replacement never brought with it any design that was inclusive of persons with disabilities: evidenced by the design of schools, churches and other such institutions that were built during this colonial era. For example, the University College of the West Indies was established in 1948 through a Royal Charter. However none of the facilities built at the university during that colonial era were accessible to persons with disabilities. Indeed, the first time that a person with a disability ventured into the newly formulated University of the West Indies was after 1962 (the post-colonial era).
Again, the pervasive culture or attitude towards persons with disabilities was one of negativity. People then believed that once you had a disability, you should be subjected to care and welfare from the State or church. In fact, in those colonial days, persons with disabilities were only allowed to attend special education institutions. They were not involved in mainstream education (Anderson, 2014).
By the time Jamaica gained political independence in 1962, most of the buildings in the city of Kingston, including the Parliament which is the supreme legislative decision making institution in the country, were totally inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Such pervasive negative political culture (Munroe, 2002) contributed to the discrimination and marginalisation of persons with disabilities. When I speak of negative political culture here, I am referencing the attitudes and beliefs of leaders and members of the Caribbean society towards persons with disabilities at the time. No legislation was in place to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the language used to refer to persons with disabilities in laws was extremely negative. Words such as "handicap" "lunatic" and "retarded" were used to refer to persons with disabilities.
It must be noted that during that colonial era, the level of global advocacy for persons with disabilities was nowhere near what it is today. Even though the UN had declared in the Human Rights Charter in 1948, the indispensable rights and freedoms of all citizens, those rights and freedoms relating to persons with disabilities were not observed by State Parties and these included the colonial powers of Britain.
For clarity, it must be pointed out that the colonial era commenced from the moment Christopher Columbus came to Jamaica in 1494, to 1962 when the island got its independence from Britain (JIS, 2018). In 1655 Admiral Penn and General Venables captured the island from the Spanish and established what was known as the Old Representative System where the island was ruled directly from Britain. This lasted until 1866 after the Morant Bay Rebellion whereby the Crown Colony Government was established (JIS, 2018). In this political arrangement, Britain appointed a resident Governor to manage the affairs of the island and a Legislative Council was created. This lasted until 1944 when Adult Suffrage was granted to citizens to directly elect their government (Buddan, 2004). Whilst a Governor was still appointed by Britain to rule the island, an Executive Council was formulated to deal with the policies of the country. By 1953, changes were made to the Constitution that saw the introduction of a Chief Minister who appointed seven members of the House of Representative as Ministers. In 1957 self-government was achieved and the Executive Council was replaced by a Council of Ministers and the powers of the Governor significantly reduced. A fully independent nation was created in 1962 with a Governor General as Head of State and a Prime Minister as Head of Government.
The Post-Colonial Era
Upon gaining political independence in 1962, Caribbean countries such as Jamaica were faced with the daunting task of transforming their societies to make them more responsive to the new developmental imperatives (Jones & Mills, 1989). Newly independent countries were left with a legacy of unfriendly constructed cities that were built over a cumulative 500 years of colonial dominance. And even then, upon gaining political independence, the process of reconstructing the cities and making them more inclusive of persons with disabilities was never given priority until the 1970s. This was the era when the voice of persons with disabilities became more dominant and members of this community started advocating for their rights and dignity to be respected. This advocacy, for example, led to the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) formulating policies in the late 1970s for persons with disabilities to access a percentage of houses in housing schemes being built by the National Housing Trust (NHT).
1981 constituted a critical juncture (Collier & Collier, 2002) in the lives of persons with disabilities globally and locally. It was the year that the UN declared as the "Year of Persons with Disabilities" (United Nations, 1981). It constituted an ideological turn (Blyth, 1997) for persons with disabilities as the prevailing ideas within societies about members of this marginalised group were now being challenged. The welfare and medical models of disabilities were being questioned and there was a greater embrace of the social model (Gayle-Geddes, 2015). This model advocated for greater inclusivity of persons with disabilities in the mainstream of society (Oliver & Barnes, 2011). It was from here that Kingston started seeing an emphasis on persons with disabilities in mainstream educational institutions for example.
Major Developmental Landmarks for Persons with Disabilities in Jamaica
Since 2000, there have been some major developmental landmarks in Jamaica for persons with disabilities. First, the country signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and became the first country in the world to do so (United Nations, 2007). Second, in 2014, the country enacted the Disabilities Act to protect persons with disabilities against discrimination and to improve service delivery for members of this vulnerable community (MLSS, 2014). And, in 2018, the country enacted the Building Act with a new Building Code that will ensure that all new public facilities are built with the requisite access features for persons with disabilities (Ministry of Justice, 2018). All of these legal instruments have been designed to improve the conditions of persons with disabilities living in Jamaica. Based on the fore-going information, it is prudent for us to now examine how the major city in Jamaica and the gateway of the Anglophone Caribbean, stands up where accessibility for persons with disabilities are concerned. To do so, I look at the seven basic indicators that I have posited above and regard as the "Morris Scale for Accessible Cities." The nomenclature "Morris Scale" is based on the name of the author of this research and one who has a disability and been advocating for greater access and inclusion of persons with disabilities in Caribbean societies since the 1990s.
It must be pointed out that different disabilities will require varied modes of access, for example, a blind person does not need a ramp or lift to enter into a building. The blind person is able to walk and once he or she has a white-cane or a sighted guide, he or she can enter and navigate the building with ease. A person who is a wheel-chair user will however need a ramp and a lift to navigate a building because of the inability to walk independently. The situation is different for a deaf person as well and what is required for this individual is for elevators to be lit so that they can see the different levels of a building that they are in. Proper labelling is extremely important for the deaf and physically disabled. Based on these distinctions, we can now examine the situation in Kingston Jamaica.
1. Accessible housing;
The city of Kingston is the home of approximately 1 million Jamaicans (STATIN, 2011). Citizens from rural areas have been migrating to this commercial and political capital of the island to seek employment and educational opportunities. This has contributed to a significant demand for housing. The largest segment of the community of persons with disabilities resides in Kingston (STATIN, 2001). This is understandable because the city is the home of some of the most violent gangsters in the island and violence has left the scars of disability among some of the citizens.
At first it had strong connections to the political parties who were caught in an ideological battle. This peaked in 1980 when approximately 800 citizens died (Stephens & Stephens, 1986). The violence continued through the 1980s but by the time the country ventured into the 1990s, it took a different twist. Gangs were now generating independent financial means of support through the flourishing drugs trade (Munroe, 1999). In all of this, individuals were hurt due to gun fights that were taking place in inner-city communities. Some individuals emerged from such gang violence with different types of disabilities and this added to the growing population of persons with disabilities in the city.
Housing therefore became a big issue for members of this vulnerable community in Kingston. The major State agency that provides housing for citizens, the National Housing Trust (NHT) has been making provisions for persons with disabilities to access houses in housing developments that they have constructed (NHT, 2016). Thanks to an age-old policy (National Policy for Persons with Disabilities) that requires a percentage of the housing development to be reserved for persons with disabilities (MLSS, 2000).
Persons with disabilities who are contributors to the NHT also benefit from low interest rates. Dependent on the income level, there is a particular interest rate that is calculated for persons with disabilities. Some persons with disabilities pay as low as 1% interest on their mortgage from the NHT (NHT, 2017).
Similarly, the NHT has been providing a grant for households that have persons with disabilities as residents. This grant is to provide retrofitting for houses that were built without any access features for persons who are physically disabled (NHT, 2017).
Food for the Poor which is a non-governmental organisation that gives assistance to the poor and most vulnerable in the Jamaican society has been providing housing solutions for persons with disabilities. The demand however outweighs supply as most persons with disabilities living in the island are extremely poor. The problem is further compounded because there is a shortage of land space in the city and most persons with disabilities do not own land where they can use to access the benefit.
In sum, there are efforts being made to satisfy the housing demands in the city of Kingston. However, the supply for the neediest persons with disabilities is not being adequately met due to issues of cost and affordability.
2. Accessible public transportation;
In any modern city accessible transportation is of paramount importance. This is where the majority of the population resides and one is likely to find a significant concentration of persons with disabilities, since most of the services relating to them are to be found in the cities. This is the situation in the city of Kingston in Jamaica. The main transportation service is provided by the Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation (JUTC); a government owned entity. It is responsible for providing public transportation in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) which is a conurbation of communities in Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine.
In 2001, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) introduced two accessible buses with lifts for wheel-chair users (Jamaica Gleaner, 2002). These two buses formed the core of a pilot project in the KMA that should have morphed into a fulsome public transportation service for persons with disabilities. However, this was not to be as the next time any additional buses were placed in the JUTC fleet in the KMA was in 2011 (Jamaica Observer, 2011). The two buses were first placed on specific bus routes where study had shown a large concentration of persons with disabilities. An additional four buses were placed in the system in 2011. However, these buses are inadequate to transport all the persons with disabilities who reside in the city of Kingston, especially those who have a physical disability.
There are private transportation companies that serve to augment the services provided by the JUTC. However, only a few of them provide accessible services for persons with physical disabilities.
As a means of giving support to public transportation for persons with disabilities in the city of Kingston, the GOJ provides a subsidy for these individuals travelling on the JUTC. However, these individuals must be registered with the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD, 2018). The JCPD is the established government agency that is responsible for providing services for persons with disabilities across Jamaica.
From my observations, in the city of Kingston there are major transportation hubs that are provided by the JUTC to transport its customers. All citizens, inclusive of persons with disabilities are required to go to these transportation centres or bus stops, to catch the buses. Persons with disabilities have complained about the transportation centres as they claim that they are extremely noisy and confusing for them. Furthermore, sometimes it has proven difficult to get assistance from individuals at these transportation centres for persons with disabilities.
Recognising this existential environment, one can conclude that the transportation services in the city of Kingston are woefully inadequate for persons with disabilities.
3. Accessible roads and sidewalks;
One is expected to see the best of road infrastructure in the cities within any country. From my observations, it is true that the city of Kingston has some of the best roads in Jamaica. However, these roads are not accessible to persons with disabilities. Wheel-chair users find it extremely difficult to navigate across the city as sidewalks are narrow and riddled with holes (Jamaica Gleaner, 2018). They are populated with obstacles that impede persons with disabilities. For example, light-poles for the major utility company are placed in the middle of the sidewalks and this provides a nightmare for both wheel-chair users and persons who are blind. Furthermore, there is no assistive support from modern technologies to aid persons with disabilities to navigate the busy thoroughfares of Kingston. Persons with disabilities have to depend on their white-cane or wheel-chair to move around and the generosity of their non-disabled counterparts. Again, we see from observations and archival sources, the city of Kingston falling short in terms of the basic accessibility standards needed for roads to enable persons with disabilities in a metropolis.
4. Accessible green spaces;
Recognising the nature of large cities and the fact that there are inadequate lands, green spaces must be provided so that citizens can participate in varied recreational activities. Green spaces are designated public areas where citizens can visit for relaxation, leisure, exercise or socialise. These green spaces must be accessible and inclusive so that persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups can participate. In the city of Kingston, from observation, there are four major green spaces (Mandela Park, Emancipation Park, Hope Gardens and the National Heroes Park) and all of them have access features for persons with disabilities. The level of access is however dependent on when the facility was built. For example, the Emancipation Park that was constructed in 2002; is the most accessible for persons with disabilities because it was constructed at a time when a greater consciousness existed in the society towards persons with disabilities.
5. Accessible shopping spaces;
Kingston is undoubtedly the commercial capital of Jamaica. It is the place where citizens congregate in large numbers to purchase various goods and services. Persons with disabilities have to venture in these shopping spaces because most of the services for them are in this metropolis. By and large, persons with disabilities are able to shop and conduct their business at these shopping spaces. However, from observations, some of these shopping spaces do not have facilities to accommodate wheel-chair users. Wheel-chair users therefore have to be extremely selective of where they go to shop and sometimes where they shop does not offer the most competitive prices. This makes life more difficult for wheel-chair users since they already have limited financial resources and sometimes have to shop in areas that do not offer them the greatest value for their money.
6. Accessible public facilities such as schools, health centres and other institutions of government that offers services to citizens;
Being the political and commercial capital of Jamaica, most of the governmental institutions and services are available to citizens. The city is the home of some of the most modern buildings and as such, some of the facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities. In the context of the major health facilities such as hospitals and clinics, they are all accessible to persons with disabilities. From observations, individuals with disabilities are able to navigate their way at these facilities and citizens and staff members do give assistance whenever requested.
The best place for a person with a disability in Jamaica to get a quality education is in the city of Kingston. All the options for a person with a disability to get an education are available in this metropolis. At the pre-primary level, there are special education institutions to deal with the different types of disabilities. There is the Early Stimulation Programme that provides early stimulation for children with developmental disabilities from 0-6 years old. There is the Salvation Army School for the Blind that provides support for children with visual disabilities from the infant level. The Danny Williams School for the Deaf provides education support for deaf children at the pre and primary levels. Similarly, the Randolph Lopez Special School provides educational support for children with intellectual disabilities. The Hope Valley Experimental School was established in the 1970s with the fundamental aim of integrating children with disabilities in the regular primary school system. This primary school has been accepting a plethora of children with physical disabilities in the city. There are other private educational institutions that are available to provide educational support for children with disabilities but these are available at a higher cost than government supported institutions.
At the high school level, there are special educational institutions for children with disabilities. For example, there is the Lister Mair Gilbey High School that caters to children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. There is the Salvation Army School for the Blind that provides educational services for blind children.
There is also educational mainstreaming that takes place at this level. There are a number of high schools that have been including blind students in the city but very few have been accepting other types of disabilities. For example, Mona High School has been designed to accommodate children who are wheel-chair users and has been accepting them on a consistent basis.
Abilities Foundation is a post-secondary institution that offers skills and technical training for persons with different types of disabilities. It is the only institution of its kind in the island and is based in the city of Kingston.
At the tertiary level, all of these institutions have been accepting persons with disabilities. However, not all of them have the facilities to deal with persons with disabilities. The University of the West Indies (UWI) is the exception here. They have a special facility to accommodate students with disabilities and it is the only resource centre of its kind in the island at the tertiary level. Students with disabilities studying at the UWI are given various support including: academic counselling, technological support, special examination centre, special volunteers to read, write and take them to classes if needed (Morris, 2018).
Notwithstanding the unique facility available at the UWI for students with disabilities, there are some challenges. Not all of the buildings are accessible because of the era they were constructed. The institution has however implemented policies to modify these buildings over time and new buildings being constructed must be built with the requisite access features. The institution is also contending with the issue of educating deaf persons. It has been extremely expensive to pay for Sign Language Interpreters and this is a challenge for the institution.
Other tertiary institutions have not been able to establish a similar facility to that at UWI primarily because of cost. It is an extremely expensive outlay and requires the political will and strong advocacy from the student population with a disability to get such a facility established. Notwithstanding, operators of the facility at UWI have been extending some of their services to assist some students with disabilities who are not registered at the institution.
As it relates to government ministries and departments, most of them are based in the city. The main ministries are accessible to persons with disabilities but the agencies have accessibility challenges. Not all of them are accessible to wheel-chair users.
The Parliament of Jamaica is based in the city and whilst most persons with disabilities can access the institution, those with physical disabilities are confronted with major challenges. Sign Language Interpretation is provided at the various sittings of the Parliament so that deaf persons can relate to what is being discussed.
One of the major airports, the Norman Manley International is located in the city. It is fully accessible to persons with disabilities and is an example of what a modern facility should look like for a person with disability. Members of the community of persons with disabilities have however been complaining about the negative interactions that they have had with some individuals working at the airports and other government agencies. Individuals with physical disabilities have, for example, complained that during their checks at the security point at the airport, they are treated in a disrespectful manner. They have indicated that the searches conducted trample on their dignity and the language used to refer to them are sometimes offensive (Jamaica Observer, 2012). The nature of the complaints are reflective of a broader socio-cultural challenge where some people still have negative attitudes and myths towards persons with disabilities. These myths and attitudes can only be corrected through consistent public education and training of staff within the public sector.
Sports are extremely important to national development and persons with disabilities must be included in this process. The two major national sporting facilities in the island, the National Stadium and Sabina Park are located in Kingston. Both of these facilities benefited from extensive renovation during the preparation for World Cup Cricket in 2007. Thankfully, these facilities are now accessible to persons with disabilities.
An area of importance in determining accessibility of a city is hotel accommodation. This is where you have to make provisions for persons with disabilities who will require such a service. Most of the hotels were constructed at a time when there was limited emphasis being placed on persons with disabilities. As such, only a few of the hotels have access for wheel-chair users. The largest hotel in the city, the Jamaica Pegasus has been modernised and has accessibility features for the different types of disabilities. Other types of disabilities can access all the hotels but there is a major challenge for wheel-chair users.
7. Accessible workplaces.
The city of Kingston is the home of many of the businesses in the island. This explains why this metropolis is the most populated in the island. It is where most persons with disabilities are therefore able to transact businesses and seek employment. However, most of these businesses are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Again, most of the buildings were constructed at a time when very little emphasis was being placed on persons with disabilities as no one expects them to participate in the labour force. Data from a 2015 socio-economic study on persons with disabilities showed a mere 9% of the respondents being employed (MLSS, 2015). Most of these individuals are absent from the labour force because of a number of factors, of which inaccessible workplace is a quintessential one.
Recommendations for Actions
It is clear that some progress has been made in the city of Kingston to accommodate persons with disabilities. However, for this metropolis to be categorized as a truly accessible city, some major efforts must be made to transform the environment. There is a regeneration taking place with construction since 2015 in the city and with the passage of the new Building Act in 2018, a tremendous window of opportunity exists to make the environment more accessible. As such, the following are some recommendations for urgent action for the city to become truly accessible by 2022, the year when it is scheduled to celebrate its 150th Anniversary:
- For the GOJ to create a dedicated fund to embark on a massive improvement in access to public facilities for persons with disabilities across Jamaica;
- For the GOJ to embark on a major sidewalk improvement project that will focus on access for persons with disabilities;
- Upon engaging in this sidewalk construction project, the GOJ must get the major utility company to move its light-poles to the inward portion of the sidewalk so that wheel-chair users and blind persons can move with ease;
- To install special traffic signals that speak, similar to those in some developed countries such as New Zealand, at pedestrian crossings across the city to notify persons with disabilities when to cross the street;
- To ensure that all streets and roads are properly labelled and numbered to facilitate easy GPS mapping;
- To create a map of accessible locations and buildings in the city;
- To increase the number of buses that are equipped with the requisite access features to 10% of the total fleet;
- To establish an incentive mechanism such as a discount on custom charges on an imported accessible motor vehicle, for private companies/operators of taxis to transport persons with physical disabilities;
- For the GOJ to make it mandatory for all government owned buildings in the city to install accessible facilities for persons with disabilities;
- For all tertiary institutions in the city to create a resource centre to assist students with disabilities who are registered with them;
- For tertiary institutions to introduce academic courses that will impart knowledge on the creative and innovative nature of persons with disabilities;
- For the GOJ to move aggressively to make all primary and high schools in the city fully accessible to children with disability;
- For the GOJ to provide incentive mechanism for owners and operators of private buildings that were constructed before the passage of the Building Act 2018, to install access features to accommodate persons with disabilities and
- For government and private sectors to engage in on-going sensitization training programmes on how to relate with vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities.
I commenced this article with a quotation from Christopherson (2016) that outlined his perspective on smart and inclusive cities for persons with disabilities. The article gives some indication as to what cities in the new era should look like for persons with disabilities. And whilst the articulations about smart and inclusive cities are not to be construed as a panacea for the problems relating to accessibility for persons with disabilities, they nevertheless constitute an important means of placing issues of persons with disabilities on the global development agenda.
Data is showing that cities are where most persons with disabilities reside (Salman, 2018). It is therefore incumbent on governments to put in place the requisite services to accommodate these individuals. In this assessment, I examined the situation in the Anglophone Caribbean, using the city of Kingston as the point of departure. I adumbrated that most of the cities were designed and constructed during the colonial era and as such, no emphasis was placed on including persons with disabilities in the mainstream of society. The dominant perspective towards persons with disabilities at the time was that of welfare (Borsay, 2005). Persons with disabilities were not construed as individuals who could offer any meaningful contribution to society and so buildings and other public facilities were designed and constructed without due consideration for them. All of this has been greatly manifested in large metropolises in the Anglophone Caribbean such as the city of Kingston.
As perspectives on persons with disabilities evolved, for example the introduction of the social model in the late 1980s (post-colonial era), we have seen a simultaneous change in design and construction of facilities to accommodate members of this vulnerable community. Since the post-colonial era, more efforts are being made to integrate persons with disabilities in the mainstream of society (Barnes & Mercer, 2004). Thanks to global treaties such as the CRPD and the SDGs that have now placed the issue of disability at the centre of the global developmental agenda.
In all of this, we see cities within the Anglophone Caribbean making moves to correct accessibility deficits that were created during 500 years of colonial dominance. Cities like Kingston have some accessible features but it is far from being regarded as an accessible metropolis. From data collected through observations at some institutions and public facilities, the city has not measured up to the basic standards outlined in the 'Morris Scale' for accessible cities. For it to be regarded as such, the Government and private sectors must embark on an urgent trajectory to make the city fully accessible by 2022, the year it is projected to celebrate 150 years as the political capital of Jamaica. In order to assist this process, I have formulated some recommendations for action to be taken by the respective stakeholders to make this a reality. Importantly, these recommendations must be implemented with the input of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are the ones who will be utilizing these facilities and it is imperative for the Government to dialogue with these individuals to get a first-hand view as to what are their needs and to tell them how they will go about implementing the recommendations. After all, there should be "Nothing about us, without us." Persons with disabilities living within the Anglophone Caribbean do want to live in the type of city articulated by Christopherson (2016).
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Senator Dr. Floyd Morris is the Director of the UWI Centre for Disability Studies (UWICDS) and the CARICOM Special Rapporteur on Disability. He is a Senator in the Parliament of Jamaica where he has served in that capacity for over 16 years. He is one of the leading advocates for persons with disabilities in Jamaica and the broader Caribbean and led the negotiations for Jamaica at the United Nations on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Jamaica was the first country to sign and ratify in 2007.
List of institutions/facilities visited between February and August 2017
|Name of Institution/Facility||Type of Institution/Facility|
|University of the West Indies||Educational|
|University of Technology||Educational|
|Mona High School||Educational|
|Holy Trinity Primary||Educational|
|Hope Valley Experimental||Educational|
|Salvation Army School for the Blind||Educational|
|Lister Mair Gilbey High||Educational|
|Ministry of Labour and Social Security||Government Ministry|
|Ministry of Finance and Planning||Government Ministry|
|Ministry of Education, Youth and Information||Government Ministry|
|Ministry of Science, Energy and Mining||Government Ministry|
|Ministry of Health||Government Ministry|
|University Hospital of the West Indies||Health Facility|
|Kingston Public Hospital||Health Facility|
|Andrews Memorial Hospital||Private Health Facility|
|Kingston Health Centre||Health Facility|
|National Stadium||Sporting Facility|
|Sabina Park||Sporting Facility|
|Norman Manley International Airport||Airport|
|National Heroes Park||Park|
|Half Way Tree Transportation Centre||Bus Depot|
|Downtown Transportation Centre||Bus Depot|
|Hope Road||Bus Stop/Sidewalk|
|Old Hope Road||Bust Stop/Sidewalk|
|Cross Road||Bust Stop/Sidewalk|
|Heroes Circle||Bus Stop/Sidewalk|
|Knutsford Court Hotel||Hotel|
|Sovereign Plaza||Shopping Mall|
|Lane Plaza||Shopping Mall|
|Liguanea Plaza||Shopping Mall|
|Central Plaza||Shopping Plaza|
|Tropical Plaza||Shopping Plaza|